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Zip and Sparkle?

The Munich Symphony Orchestra on tour,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Not for the first time recently, Derby audiences were presented with the strange phenomenon of a touring foreign orchestra that only seemed to come fully alive in its encore (Munich Symphony Orchestra, Assembly Rooms, Derby, UK, 16 November 2006).

Dvorák's Czech Suite never quite recovered from an over-leisurely start. The outer sections of the polka second movement were too smooth and sophisticated to be believably rustic, and this affected the other movements too. In the end the piece was simply drained of its charm.

Beijing-born violinist Dan Zhu was the soloist in Mendelssohn's E minor Concerto, finding a plaintive note in the opening theme which I don't remember hearing before. His tone is not big, but he's a thoughtful player with a secure technique. The more vigorous passages came off best, though the finale was marred by his tendency to race ahead of the orchestra. His encore, a set of Paganini-like variations on 'The Last Rose of Summer' by the 19th-century violin virtuoso Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, showed impressive technical command, but was over-long.

Tchaikovsky's Second ('Little Russian') Symphony received a performance nearly as subdued as the Dvorák. There was some fine attention to orchestral detail and crisp rhythms in the second movement, but the playing in the third movement found its energy but not its buoyant lightness. Conductor Philippe Entremont's over-indulgent way with the finale's second theme (the one that sounds disconcertingly like a rumba) tended to undermine the music's momentum.

But then came the encore, the last of Dvorák's Op 46 Slavonic Dances, and all the zip and sparkle missing earlier suddenly snapped into place.

Copyright © 29 November 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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