“Carnival Time, Flashing Fingers and Dear Old Ludwig…”

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The RTWSO Concert 5 February 2023, reviewed by Maureen Greenhouse

Carnival Time, Flashing Fingers and Dear Old Ludwig – the RTWSO brought it all to the Assembly Hall

The Programme Notes for this wonderfully eclectic concert posed the question “How many Brazilian composers can you name?”  Some people might just about manage to recall Villa-Lobos, but this concert introduced us to the hidden talents, and delights, of César Guerra-Peixe and his music.  In a gratifying return to almost pre-pandemic attendance numbers, the audience in the Assembly Hall heard his Suite Sinfônica No. 2 – Pernambucana. This composer’s music is championed by Neil Thomson, the conductor for this concert. Although associated with the RTWSO for 40 years as a player and conductor, Neil now lives in Brazil and particularly wished to bring this vibrant folk-lore based, dance music to an English audience. Comments heard after the concert about this 4-movement piece ranged from “exciting”, “exhilarating” and [in a positive way] “I never thought I would hear the RTWSO play this type of repertoire and that it would be so well-received.” Well done Neil for bringing this composer’s music to Tunbridge Wells and for sharing your infectious enthusiasm for this music and guiding the orchestra through some seemingly challenging passages.

Anyone who has seen the film ‘Amadeus’ might remember the scene when Emperor Joseph II tells Mozart that a piece he [Mozart] has presented to the Emperor is ok but it has “too many notes”.  A crest-fallen Mozart replies “There are just as many notes, Majesty, as are required. Neither more nor less.” When the Emperor then replies “Cut a few and it will be perfect” Mozart replies “Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?”  !!!! Why mention all this? Well, it could be argued by some that the concerto in this concert – the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Prokofiev – falls into the same category of having “too many notes”.  However, just as Mozart replied, there are as many notes in this concerto as Prokofiev intended. Not only are they there in great numbers but they are also required to be played at a break-neck speed most of the time by both soloist and orchestra. Even the traditional ‘slow’ middle movement contains passages which Prokofiev wanted played in anything but a slow tempo.  Of course all this rushing around the keyboard requires a pianist of some technique and in Isata Kanneh-Mason the perfect match was found. Still only 26 years of age and oldest of the 7 siblings in that incredible Kanneh-Mason musical family, she has established an international career playing in concert venues throughout the world. Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 is a technically demanding piece – a real tour de force in the repertoire  – and Isata Kanneh-Mason delivered what the Assembly Hall audience wanted – and more. The extended applause at the end of her performance was testament to how much pleasure she had given.

After the interval came more drama of a different kind when the majestic opening of Beethoven’s Overture to Coriolan heralded the all-Beethoven second half. In around 8 minutes Beethoven conveys such an intensity of emotions ranging from anger and violence through to pathos, tenderness and despair. The plot revolves around Coriolanus being unjustly exiled, his revolt against the authorities [Beethoven surely could draw upon some of his own experiences here], the anguished relationship between Coriolanus and his mother and the dark tragedy of his suicide at the end of the piece. Such emotion is likely to drain orchestra and audience alike!

Nothing could be further from the syncopated rhythms of the Suite Sinfônica which opened the concert, or the frantic rushing around on the piano which followed, or even the dramatic overture, than Beethoven’s 8th Symphony which concluded this fascinating concert. The return to some sense of musical form, of knowing what to expect and then getting it, came as something of a relief after all that had gone previously. This symphony is lighter in mood than many of his others but certainly not trite. The ‘metronomic’ beat, especially in the second movement, became rather mesmeric and overall the congenial way in which the symphony progressed to its conclusion, sent the audience away with the feeling that all was well and in its rightful place – as indeed it was.

In this concert the orchestra was certainly put through its paces with so many different styles and genres represented but with Neil Thomson at the helm steadying the ship and Isata Kanneh-Mason providing some pianistic ‘fizz’, the audience experienced Carnival revelry, finger-tapping excellence, draining emotions and eventually a return to calmer waters – all in the space of a couple of hours!

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