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Review: The Romantics, Lars Vogt and Royal Northern Sinfonia, at Sage Gateshead

Lars Vogt, music director designate of Royal Northern Sinfonia, showed the range of his talents in a challenging Sage programme

*****
Lars Vogt the music director of the Northern Sinfonia
Lars Vogt the music director of the Northern Sinfonia

Lars Vogt, Royal Northern Sinfonia’s incoming music director, talked, played and conducted his way into the hearts of his new North East audience in a concert designed to showcase both his world-class skill as a pianist and the more recent expansion of his talents into conducting.

In an evening of European music, the German showed contrasting sides to his piano playing, opening with Leos Janacek’s lighthearted Concertino, in which the 71-year-old composer returned to his childhood with vivid scenes from the natural world he saw.

Peter Francomb’s horn was the hedgehog, Vogt’s piano the squirrel and Timothy Orpen’s clarinet led the chorus of night birds. In the final movement, all the creatures come together with bassoon and strings for a musical argument. It was both light and delightful.

Whilst Vogt faced the audience in the first piece, he turned 180 degrees for Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto, as both lead instrumentalist and conductor.

As in the Dvorak symphony to follow, he placed the violins to his left and right, the cello section to the front and the wind section behind them in a semi-circle, resulting in a fine sound balance.

Schumann’s work is fresh, rich and romantic, with the piano taking the lead but never taking over.

Schumann’s wife Clara performed it at the premiere in 1846 and it is easy to see the entire work as a poem of love from the composer to his wife. It was also the perfect vehicle for Vogt’s dual talents – and how well the orchestra responded!

Antonin Dvorak’s 8th symphony, from 1892, was the showpiece of the evening.

Second only in popularity to his 9th, ‘From the New World’, written the following year when he had moved to America, Dvorak finally shook off Germanic influences with what was known at the time as his English symphony – due more than anything to its initial publication in London and in celebration of his being awarded a doctorate of music by Cambridge University.

There was something very English about the use of strings in the early stages of the final movement, but this – in true Dvorak fashion – is a work brimful of Bohemian folk melodies and a joy to listen to as it gallops to its rousing conclusion.

There are some lovely moments for the woodwind and brass sections, but the orchestra sections shine on an equal footing as the moods and colours change throughout the four movements.

My outstanding memory is of Vogt being at one with his new orchestra. It looks like the perfect marriage of youth, enthusiasm and musicianship, auguring well for classical music in our region.

The concert was preceded by the official launch of the 2015/16 classical season from the Hall One stage, in the form of an informal chat between Vogt and his compatriot, Sage Gateshead’s classical director, Thorben Dittes.

See full details and an assessment of the new season in Culture magazine, published free with The Journal on Tuesday, April 28.

Rob Barnes

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