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Review: Classic FM Hall of Fame Showcase, Sage Gateshead

Royal Northern Sinfonia and Joseph Moog win rapturous applause with a programme of classical pops

*****
Royal Northern Sinfonia leader Bradley Creswick
Royal Northern Sinfonia leader Bradley Creswick

This concert featured some top of the classical pops, as voted for by Classic FM listeners in the station’s 2015 Hall of Fame chart.

In demand conductor Stephen Bell, fresh from many Proms and Proms in the Park, brought a fine selection of popular pieces for Royal Northern Sinfonia to play, with outstanding solos from violinist Bradley Creswick and Joseph Moog, another of Germany’s prodigiously talented young pianists.

Choosing from a chart with 300 pieces can be no easy job but the contrasting works dovetailed well.

Three pieces evoked pastoral England immediately before the First World War. George Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow was written the year before the outbreak of the war that claimed his life while Nimrod, from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, tells of the unbreakable bonds of friendship.

Hearing this again, just a day after it was played in the Anzac Day commemoration in London of the Gallipoli landings, added its own poignancy.

The emblem of his orchestra, leader Bradley Creswick, took the plaudits in the first half for his immaculate solo performance in Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, one of the violinist’s signature pieces.

His delicate and expressive playing brought the lark to life in this resolutely English depiction of country life.

The final bars, with the violin ever quieter as the lark flies up and out of the range of sight and hearing was truly magical, with the audience able to give the performance the silent space needed to relish the moment.

There were some fine contrasts, for example in Mozart’s reliable overture from The Marriage of Figaro and in Carmen Suite No.1, Ernest Guiraud’s setting of some of Georges Bizet’s beguiling music from his famous opera.

Opportunities abounded for the brass and woodwind soloists and sections in these familiar melodies, brought to a stylish conclusion with Les Toréadors, the opera’s original overture.

An interesting inclusion, whilst still on a Latin theme, was Astor Piazzola’s Libertango, celebrating the composer’s own liberation from one form of the dance, to the tango nuevo.

Infectiously rhythmical, this short piece has been taken up by performers as varied as Grace Jones and Yo Yo Ma since its premiere in 1974.

Joseph Moog brought all of his international reputation and unbridled performance skill to the stage in the highlight piece of the evening, Sergei Rachmaninov’s glorious Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor.

Radical in comparison with English compositions of the time, this music, for all its innate tunefulness, can easily be identified as a forerunner to George Gershwin’s piano and orchestral works some 20 years later.

And whilst one encore piece should be accepted as a thank-you, this audience was granted two. Firstly Moog played Alexis Weissenberg’s piano arrangement of the Broadway musical song, April in Paris. Rarely have I witnessed louder appreciation expressed at the venue.

And to cap off a fine evening, the orchestra provided a spirited performance of Eric Coates’ irresistible 1955 film theme, The Dam Busters March.

From larks flying high to Lancasters flying low, all this music can be heard regularly on the radio. But there’s still nothing to compare with hearing them in the moment and to witness our orchestra’s obvious pleasure in performing a programme of such variety.

Rob Barnes

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