Daniel Roth * * *
at Symphony Hall
Review by David Hart
Daniel Roth is one of those performers who impress more by their solid technique than overt displays of flamboyance.
His musical credentials are certainly impeccable: he was a student of Marie-Claire Alain and Maurice Durufle at the Paris Conservatory and is now organist at Saint Sulpice, a post once famously occupied by Widor and Dupre.
Despite that, one couldn’t help feeling that a concert with the title Toccata! should perhaps have delivered more than it suggested.
There was nothing really wrong with Roth’s execution of the various toccatas and toccata-style pieces, apart from an occasional rhythmic wobble and hiccup in articulation.
But his playing, although studiedly authoritative and attractively decked out in French livery (the tonal resources of the wonderful Klais instrument never cease to amaze), often lacked virtuosic sparkle. Some items did take off. Franck’s Choral in A minor, emotionally charged and well paced, and Boellmann’s Suite Gothique with its ebullient Menuet and rip-roaring Toccata, pulled no punches; and Durufle’s Prelude et Fugue sur le Nom d’Alain erupted magnificently in its final moments.
Others – an opening Gigout group, Saint-Saens’ inconsequential first Fantaisie and a Vierne Scherzo – seemed almost matter of fact. Roth’s own Petite Rhapsodie sur une Chanson Alsacienne, a quirky novelty like a faltering musical box giving up the ghost, just sounded odd.
We also had the inevitable Toccata from Widor’s Fifth Symphony. Roth saved this for the end and played it in very resolute fashion, staccato throughout as marked.
Guilmant’s March on a theme of Handel, though stolid enough, was a far less interesting encore than an improvisation might have been.
Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra * * *
at the Adrian Boult Hall
Review by Richard Bratby
A college orchestra and a professional band are very different things. So it’s not Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra’s fault that it falls between two stools.
It’s hard to blame woodwind players for shaky intonation, when two almost completely different wind sections are fielded in the two halves of a concert.
Other problems rankled more. A brass player slouching glumly over their instrument, wrong notes in the violins, haphazard concert dress: details like these send a decidedly mixed message to a paying audience. A shame, because this orchestra brims with potential.
That was clear from the outset, in its keen and colourful accompaniment to soprano Tetyana Pivovarova’s two Tchaikovsky arias. With her dark tone, Pivovorova convinced more as Pique Dame’s Liza than Onegin’s Tatyana – but remained a striking vocal and dramatic presence throughout.
Daniel Sanford-Casey’s dazzlingly charismatic performance of Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto, though, stole the night. Whether spraying red-hot volleys of notes in a trumpet-like high register, or slyly inflecting a pianissimo phrase, Sanford-Casey made perfect sense of this mercurial work. The orchestra was audibly inspired, Russell Abraham’s rapid-fire side drum battling thrillingly with the soloist. The problems came into focus with conductor Lionel Friend’s hard-bitten, inflexible reading of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Dynamics never fell below mezzo-piano and pivotal moments – like the return of the motto-theme at the climax of the Adagio – went for nothing. And would an occasional portamento have hurt?
The players rescued the performance. Richard Tattam’s deliciously characterful bassoon solo redeemed Friend’s charmlessly rigid Valse, while principal horn Alison Bach wrought a rare moment of soft-toned, long-breathed poetry in the Adagio. No question, these students can play magnificently. If this performance was ultimately frustrating, the buck must stop with the conductor.