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Review: Orchestra of the Swan at Birmingham Town Hall

Norman Stinchcombe reviews Orchestra of the Swan at Birmingham Town Hall.

Orchestra of the Swan at Birmingham Town Hall
**

Kasumi Barouch and conductor Marek Štilec conspired to achieve what I would have thought impossible – making Mozart’s wonderful Piano Concerto No 22 sound both dull and interminable. The opening orchestral tutti was leaden and rhythmically flabby while Barouch’s playing was timid and cautious – a rabbit caught in the headlights of Mozart’s blazing genius.

Her decision to play using a score did nothing to eliminate a plethora of errors. In the second movement Štilec ignored Mozart’s andante marking, choosing a tempo so lugubrious that it sounded like Mahler in a suicidally world-weary mood. Instead of a jaunty allegro the finale meandered in arthritically so Mozart’s inspired andante cantabile interjection had to be played at a funereal pace to compensate. Barouch’s note-by-note reading rendered any attempt at phrasing, nuance or interpretation perfunctory at best. I hope Mozart was otherwise occupied in the musical empyrean during this.

The concert had started well with a nicely-shaped and bouncy performance of Rossini’s overture The Italian Girl in Algiers. Štilec was on home ground with Czech composer Sylvie Bodorová’s 1984 short work Jubiloso, subtitled “festive music for chamber orchestra”, which has a soulful central section framed by trumpet fanfares (niftily played) – shades of Janacek’s Sinfonietta. It sounded very pleasant and the composer, who took a bow from the stalls, was well pleased. Dvo?ák’s tuneful Czech Suite showcased the orchestra’s excellent wind section but Štilec’s tempi were generally too slow – the final Furiant was good but would have been even better at the presto Dvo?ák asked for.

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