June edition, Special feature [where 23 music critics etc. wrote articles
about their favourite concertos])
Urushihara's and Wolfe's performance of Elgar: A ferocious impact radiating from
a tranquil 'place'
･ 23rd April 2017, Hyogo Performing Arts Center
･ Asako URUSHIHARA (vn), Joseph WOLFE (conductor),
Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra
･ Elgar 'Violin Concerto'
In a concerto performance, when a soloist with hidden passion which spouts forth
in the midst of calmness encounters an orchestra conductor who loves this work
more than anything and knows this well, a ferocious 'place' that nobody could
have expected will be created. Edward Elgar's 'Violin Concerto' (performed 21st
to 23rd April 2017), which combined Asako Urushihara with the Hyogo Performing
Arts Center Orchestra, and Joseph Wolfe as conductor, was certainly that moment
for me. This work is not often performed. There were also certainly expectations
for this encounter. Urushihara faced towards him likewise with gentle calmness
in her usual on-stage manner. The tone of the strings shone, but in an introspective
way, where the fervent passion spouted introspectively with an austere sheen.
Wolfe faced the solo performance head-on by conscientiously leading this well-constructed
composition. The elegant lyricism was brought out in a natural way.
Moreover, the pizzicato tremolo appearing in the 3rd movement was also formed
in an unaffected manner to a world where its entirety was filled with grace.
This was a performance where a ferocious impact radiated from a tranquil 'place'.
(selected and written by Kunio SHIMADA (critic))
June edition, Monthly review)
Orchestra - Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra (95th subscription
21st April, Hyogo Performing Arts Center (Grand Hall), Joseph WOLFE (conductor),
Asako URUSHIHARA (vn)
Elgar: 'Violin Concerto' and 'Symphony No. 1'
Talented conductor Wolfe, from England, made his appearance to perform two masterpieces
by major composer and compatriot Elgar. The 'Violin Concerto' is a difficult
work where the technical demands gradually increase as the work progresses which,
even with the proficient Urushihara, and even though this was her 4th joint performance
with Wolfe for this work, did not quite come to perfection. However, she resolutely
fought until the end so as to not let up on the tension, meanwhile giving a notable
performance where the parts which needed to be expressed were sufficiently done
so. Although the orchestra also gave a sticky performance of the lengthy prelude,
in due course that was responded to by the litheness and delicateness of the
solo. While Wolfe showed himself as a careful and conscientious conductor as
did his father Colin Davis, Wolfe also showed his individuality by incorporating
freely created music here and there, frequently interchanging the hardness and
softness of the sounds with superb modulation, thus bringing out Elgar's charm.
In the latter half, and in the 'Symphony No. 1' in particular,
even in a scenario where Wolfe's unique technique of shifting pulses, such as
by syncopation, could evoke lagging, on the contrary agitatedly unfurled the
music. He also showed glimpses of boldness, such as by occasionally getting effects
with a dynamic different to what is written in the score. Beginning with the
horns, a fine performance of the brass instruments in particular shone through.
Hajime TERANISHI (critic)
Performing Arts Center Orchestra (95th subscription concert);
reviewed by Katsura KOISHI
Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra (95th subscription concert)
Performed on 21st April 2017 at the KOBELCO Grand Hall of the Hyogo Performing
Reviewed by Katsura KOISHI
Photos by Takashi IIJIMA; provided by the Hyogo Performing Arts Center
< Performers >
Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra
Joseph WOLFE (conductor)
Asako URUSHIHARA (violin)
< Programme >
Elgar: Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61
Elgar: Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55
was a concert of only Elgar works - of two monumental works with performance
times of over 50 minutes. I couldn't wait to learn what kind of concert
this would be. What finally began was a torrential flow of music without
any sharp edges whatsoever. The orchestra above all was leisurely and bountifully
The Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra (PAC orchestra), needless to say,
is made up of young performers who study and perform musical works for a three-year
term, which little-by-little contributes to their improvement. The first-chair
performers of orchestras such as the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Yamagata Symphony
Orchestra, Tokyo Symphony Orchestra insinuate themselves in each section as top
performers in such a spirited young group, becoming the core performers and pulling
the entire orchestra. I felt this style mostly works well. The basic group is
young, where the maestros come as guests. I believe that's how bountiful music
that embraces audiences is made.
Conductor Joseph Wolfe, who is also a violinist, young and easy-going, captures
the essence of the harmony changes in music. He brings the music out closely
together from within at the transition of successively connected sounds. Careful
sound-spinning Asako Urushihara, the orchestra and Wolfe himself all are smoothly
Wolfe, as an English conductor, has built an intimate relationship with the music
of English musician Elgar. (Although a superficial management takes exception
to such a style being regarded as acceptable), Wolfe's way of approaching large-scale
works from within strongly conveys a sense of 'England', and thus was a really
satisfying concert. The 'all-Elgar programme' should have had been the greatest
'selling point' in this performance, and thus looking forward to future programmes
which would satisfy the audiences looking to 'listen to more Elgar'.
- Gunma Symphony Orchestra (527th subscription concert)
15th April, Gunma Music Center, Joseph WOLFE (conductor), Michal KANKA (vc),
Elgar: 'Elegy', 'Cello Concerto' and 'Symphony No. 1'
Joe WOLFE is a conductor who, while based in England with the London Symphony
Orchestra and others, has also performed numerous times as guest conductor in
Japan. He is also the son of Sir Colin David. On this day was an ambitious programme
of all-Elgar works, which appears to be Wolfe's own speciality. Certainly in
the 'Elegy', the opening work, he created a sentimentality which also entreats
for memorial and repose in the midst of tranquillity, as a hushed and reverent
The soloist for the next work, the 'Cello Concerto', was Michal Kanka. He was
the recipient of the highest award at the ARD International Music Competition,
is also known as a member of the Prazak string quartet. His delicate formation
as seen overall was impressive. Above all, his attacks were gentle, which he
expressed with poise, and with a fluently beautiful tone and colour. The bow
pressure as he transitioned from the end of a phrasing to the next one was just
superb, and he brought forth with an introspective and tender sentimental lyricism.
Meanwhile, the 4th movement was lively and full of passion, and the entire work
was vividly put together with ever-changing emotions at will by tempo variations.
Performed next was the 'Symphony No. 1', where [Wolfe] of course showed his seasoned
abilities exquisitely in presenting the motto theme, and in his handling when
it occasionally appeared. Although [the presentation] wasn't completely difficulty-free
in individual instruments etc., it was woven through densely and emotionally
with no lack of musical flow and tension.
Yudai MAJIMA (critic)
Gendai, May 2015
Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra 286th Subscription
This subscription concert featured English conductor Joseph
WOLFE, who studied in London, Dresden and Berlin. The performance
of Mozart's Symphony No. 36 (Linz)
was chosen in accordance with the wishes of the City Philharmonic of including
German and Austrian works in the programme, and this had a truly fresh
and lively sound. The works of Elgar, compatriot of the conductor,
were featured in the
latter half, where the Serenade for Strings in E minor was a work from
Elgar's early period, composed of three beautiful pastoral-like
movements, where the
City Philharmonic Orchestra delivered a solid performance with a softness,
as if scenes of England appeared before me. The main featured
work of the 'Enigma
Variations' was also a well-rounded work, and was composed before Elgar
completed his subsequent major works. This was a refined
performance of a magnificent drama
unfolding through 14 variations centred round a theme, where musical portraits
of his wife and friends were portrayed in each variation. Wolfe delivered
a noble British sound, where he not only had the ability
to show in a new light a clear
structure of the characteristics of each variation, but also an awareness
of the tone of the Japanese orchestra.
(Performance held on 21st February at the
Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall)
Ongaku no Tomo,
Orchestra Gunma Symphony Orchestra (506th subscription
Elgar: Violin concerto Op. 61, and Sibelius: Symphony No. 5 performed on 28th
February at the Gunma Music Center, conducted by Joseph WOLFE and featuring
violinist Asako URUSHIHARA
The programme for the Gunma Symphony Orchestra February subscription concert
of the Elgar violin concerto and the Sibelius Symphony No. 5 was a rather sober
one. The conductor was Joseph Wolfe, son of renowned English conductor Sir
Colin Davis who passed away two years ago. Firstly, it must surely be noticed
not only by this author that it is quite surprising that the aura of Wolfe
was somewhat different to that of his father Sir Colin who had very much the
aura of an English gentleman.
Wolfe conveyed in the Elgar work an extraordinary ability to precisely align
with the solos by delicate agogic movements. Whereas Wolfe's father Sir Colin
was the type to adjust the music from the exterior, Wolfe displayed an emotion-based
music making by adapting to harmony changes. Wolfe's conveyance of a strong
will for contrapuntal treatment is also his forte. It's been a while since
I last heard Urushihara's performance, and her matured music making was nice
and pleasant. To hear this massive work of nearly 50 minutes in one go is surely
the achievement of Urushihara and Wolfe. Wolfe's contrapuntal treatment in
the Sibelius brought a more lively music. That will for contrapuntal treatment
running round at the end is surely the 'youth' of Wolfe. The Valse Triste by
Sibelius was performed as th e encore piece, where a nice lingering moment
remained. Wolfe is a conductor to keep an eye out for in future.
Ongaku no Tomo,
Orchestra Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra
Mozart: Symphony No. 36 (Linz), Elgar: Serenade for Strings Op. 20, and Elgar:
Variations on an Original Theme 'Enigma' Op.36, performed on 21st February
at Tokyo Opera City, and conducted by Joseph WOLFE
Guest conducted by English born conductor Joseph Wolfe, where the stringed
instruments in the Mozart 'Linz' Symphony were arranged in a 14, 12, 8, 8,
3 formation, which was a rather large one for this composer. Although there
was a warm sound to the performance, I would have liked a little more articulation
and lightness in the ensemble. The 4th movement etc. was well-modulated, and
overall I thought this was a Mozart performance of a rather nostalgic style.
The formation for Elgar's Serenade for strings was also rather large, in a
14, 12, 10, 8, 7 arrangement, where the string orchestra had an appealing full
low sound. A broad dynamic range with espressivo and passionate cantabile could
be heard in the 2nd movement in particular, where the moments of conscientious
expression recalled the conductor's roots as a violinist. The creation of romantic
music in the Enigma Variations, the final work in the evening's programme,
could also be heard. The scale of the 'Nimrod', the 9th variation of this work,
which was performed in a deliberate and passionately singing manner, was particularly
grand and emotionally moving. However, I also thought that the response of
the orchestra during musical transitions was lacking, and it would have been
good to have had more preciseness in the music-making.
Ongaku no Tomo, November 2013
Japan Century Symphony Orchestra (184th Subscription Concert)
26th September at The Symphony Hall; Joseph WOLFE (conductor),
Hiroshi KIGAWA (horn) and Sam FURNESS (tenor); A. Dvorák: Serenade in D minor, Op. 44,
B. Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Op. 31 and F. J. Haydn: Symphony
in E flat major, Hob. I-99
The 184th subscription concert of the Japan Century Symphony Orchestra was
guest conducted by Briton Joseph Wolfe, where the opening piece was Dvorák's
Serenade for Wind Instruments. Though I could hear at times the high level of
instruments players of this orchestra, I could not sense any marked individuality
of interpretation, and although the performance was well put-together, I can't
say I was deeply moved. The second work was Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn
and Strings, Op. 31, a unique work with solos for horn and tenor which was performed
in celebration of the centennial of the composer's birth with Hiroshi KIGAWA,
a well-known young, top-class performer as the first horn player of the orchestra,
taking on the solo. Although he started off somewhat unstably, I felt that he
eventually came into his own and showed his high level of ability. In future
I'd like to see him aim for a more polished completeness of technique and an expressiveness
of dense feeling and profound aftereffect. Tenor Sam Furness was in his element
by singing in his native English and his expressiveness was quite
The performance of the orchestra, composed only of the stringed instruments
led by Wolfe who in turn was supported by the orchestra, was also nice with
and intimate expressiveness. The latter half of the programme was curiously
only Haydn's Symphony No. 99 but this was a good thing. It was an unpretentious
natural performance and on the contrary the beauty of the spiritual divertimento
and classical structure embedded in the work came out refreshingly.
The Chugoku Shimbun, Saturday,
23 February 2013
Handling the ingredients of sound to bring music to life
Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra (326th Subscription Concert)
Joseph WOLFE conducting and Asako URUSHIHARA performing her violin solo at the
Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra 326th Subscription Concert
Perhaps it can be said that it is like feeling a sense of well-being
after enjoying savoury cuisine. This is the impression I came away
with just after listening
to the 326th Subscription Concert of the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra (held
on 15th February at the Hiroshima Bunka Gakuen HBG Hall). The way in
which the ingredients
are brought to life differs greatly depending on the culinary chef. The same
can be said for music.
Briton and young conductor Joseph Wolfe is the son of the globally renowned
great master, Sir Colin Davis. But the children of great conductors do not
a great conductor make. My expectations were not particularly high.
English composer Elgar's 'violin concerto' was performed in the first half
of the programme. This is a composition which tended towards a diffuseness
to show the interplay of conflict and pathos due to secret love, and this was
calmly and scrupulously interwoven by Japanese violinist Urushihara.
The dialogue of the orchestra led by Wolfe was nice - my expectations were
aroused in the latter half where Dvorak's 'Symphony No. 7' was performed -
and my expectations
were not betrayed, as Wolfe demonstrated a structure of fabulous sound. Perhaps
he thoroughly read and analysed the score, but above all he brought to life
each successive individual sound. Nevertheless, he portrayed extremely well
structure and expressive flow of the work without being over-analytical.
If I must mention one sticky point, it would have to where there were uneven
sections here and there at the start. However, I was not even bothered about
those bits of sloppiness at this evening's performance. Not only could I sufficiently
savour the meaning of each ingredient of sound, as was evident by the care
taken to leave a lingering of harmony at the end, the sensibility for the sound
sharp, resulting in the formation of an amazing ensemble.
I hear that significant progress has been shown in British cuisine these days,
and I enjoyed that taste of excellent 'musical' cuisine under the baton of
Joseph Wolfe. I would even enjoy listening to a recording of the Hiroshima
Orchestra conducted by him.
(Yumi NOTOHARA, Specially Appointed Assistant Professor at Hiroshima University,
Chugoku Shimbun, Saturday, 16 February 2013
A profound world of transcendental technique
Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra Subscription Concert
Joint performance with violinist Asako Urushihara
Violinist Asako Urushihara in a joint performance with the Hiroshima
Symphony Orchestra 326th Subscription Concert Subscription Concert
The 326th Subscription Concert of the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra
was held on 15the February at the Hiroshima Bunka Gakuen HBG Hall,
where young Briton
Joseph WOLFE took up the baton to conduct profound performance of works, including
Since their public performance in France in 1997, violinist Asako URUSHIHARA
once again reunited with the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra to perform Elgar's
violin concerto, a lengthy and demanding work amongst such concertos, with
a performance time of about 50 minutes. The audience was enthralled by Urushihara's
full command of her transcendental technique and by her depth of expressiveness.
Next in the programme was Dvorak's Symphony No. 7. The orchestra gradually
built up from a plaintive start to a powerful dynamism, and after exposition
of a Dvorakesque
peaceful ethnic melody, finally enveloped the audience with a majestic finale.
no Tomo, April 2013
Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra (326th Subscription Concert)
Held on 15th February at the Hiroshima Bunka Gakuen HBG Hall,
Conductor: Joseph WOLFE, Violin: Asako URUSHIHARA, Programme:
Elgar 'Violin concerto', Dvorak 'Symphony
Urushihara's violin playing was smooth and sheen, with well-connected sounds
capturing the essence of the music. She portrayed even the slow tempo sections
meticulously and scrupulously, and her lyrical portrayal of a graceful song
of hopeless longing was deeply expressive. Her technique was high and stable
any dynamic range from pianissimo to fortissimo. It can be said that this
was a most satisfactory violin solo lacking nothing and exhibiting a good
to the ear.
The expressiveness of Dvorak's Symphony where inner hidden strength could
be felt was nice, and with a powerfully vigorous rhythm and propulsive force,
essence of Dvorak sufficiently enveloped the hall. The 2nd movement was portrayed
with a lively expressiveness both with intensity as well as with a pastoral-like
calm, and the 3rd movement with its 6/4 rhythm was moving, as if the music
pouring forth from a vast land with a smell of fresh soil seeped deeply into
The 4th movement had a ferociously unyielding structure, and regardless of
some of the conductor's youthful rough spots, I was deeply and fervently
a rich sensibility.
Ongaku no Tomo, September
Japan Century Symphony Orchestra (162nd subscription concert)
A very unique programme featuring Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 in D major
(Op. 36), which although does not quite rival that of the Eroica, is still a
substantial masterpiece, as the performance on this day more than amply demonstrated.
The musical interpretations using a hard timpani mallet and restrained vibrato
of the stringed instruments clearly showed an awareness of the performance ways
of the period, hence the lucidity of the overall sound with a rich and solid
bass supporting the full-bodied sound. Joseph WOLFE, who conducted with a torrent
of passion but without destroying form, starkly brought forth a well-modulated
structural outline envisaged by Beethoven as well as an abundance of emotion
with orthodox candour. The orchestra capably responded to Wolfeís demands
and with a densely rich sound and ensemble, the result was a very persuasive
The first half featured solo performances of works by Toru Takemitsu and Mozart
by members of the orchestra. The crisp technique and solid musicality of the
soloists (the performance by concertmaster Tatsunobu GOTO being particularly
outstanding) gave a glimpse into the fundamentally high calibre of this orchestra.
And, being an orchestra that can demonstrate a truly fulfilling strength of performance
with the right conductor, it could be said that the selection of its conductor
is the key to its future, especially after becoming a financially self-support
June 9, 2011, The Symphony Hall
Ongaku no Tomo,
Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra (718th subscription concert)
In English composer W. Alwyn's 'Autumn
legend' for cor anglais and string orchestra, a rare gem replete with romantic
lyricism with a fascinating poetic expression
in Fusako NAMPO's solo
performance, conductor Wolfe succeeded in subtly drawing out the quintessential
English lyric beauty from the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony
Orchestra in a solid and lovely performance. Meanwhile, though Sibelius Symphony
No. 7 is quite frankly a symphonic work with a peculiar concept as the originality
of the orchestration stands out, the subtlety of the structure and form is
clearly understood, and Wolfe vividly brings forth the best part of the work
Such a very persuasive performance was a nice windfall.
June 15, 2011, Suntory Hall
Sapporo Symphony Orchestra
The 525th subscription concert
January 29 & 30, 2010
Sapporo Kitara Concert Hall
by Takao Nakamura
Wolfe's Tact Responds To The Audience's Expectation
The Sapporo Symphony Orchestra invited Joseph Wolfe to the podium of their 525th
subscription concert. His father is the prominent conductor Sir Colin Davis,
but he does not share his father's sir name to avoid possible influence that
this connection may suggest to people whom he meets.
The program opened with Berlioz's Le Corsaire Overture. It is an iconic work
of the composer, who was renowned as a master of orchestration, characterized
by the hurtling strings as well as the winds and percussions briskly beating
out the rhythms. I found Wolfe's wisdom in the choice of this work as the opening
piece. The fast passage at the beginning was refreshing, and it was followed
by the graceful theme in the smooth performance. The orchestra skillfully described
the charm of this work with vivid performance.
The second piece of the program was Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. The soloist
was a young Korean violinist, Shin Hyun-Su, who substituted for Viviane Hagner
due to her sudden cancellation. So appropriate to her slender appearance on the
stage was the slim sound she created with her instrument. Her performance was
abundant in young woman's sensibility, and it enchanted the audience.
The program concluded with Sibelius's Symphony No. 2. The United Kingdom has
produced a series of conductors who are talented in performing works by Sibelius,
and Sir Colin Davis is one of them. The audience's expectation from his son was
naturally immense, and he responded with a performance that was dynamic, yet
minute, and solid, yet vivid. Contrary to a performance that unnecessarily emphasizes
the popularity of the work, his interpretation faithfully reproduced the composer's
intentions embedded in the score. I was deeply impressed by his attitude toward
music making. I reckon, however, that it takes an exceptionally high spirituality
for Wolfe to uphold this attitude, especially considering his young age.
Accolades should be given to the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra for responding to
the conductor with superb performances. This concert proved that only excellent
conductors could make the orchestra perform with their full abilities.
Hokkaido Shimbun Newspaper, February 10, 2010
no Tomo, March 2010
Sapporo Symphony Orchestra
525th subscription concert
January 29, 2010
Sapporo Concert Hall
by Tomohiko Hondo
Joseph Wolfe guest-conducted the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra for its subscription
concert. The soloist for Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto was a young Korean violinist,
Shin Hyun-Su, who substituted for Viviane Hagner.
The program opened with Berlioz's Le Corsaire Overture. Wolfe's talent was
already obvious from this piece. The masculine sound was full of bursting vitality.
I missed Hagner's performance. However, Shin's superb performance compensated
the misfortune. With her slim, but penetrating sound as well as finely-honed
senses, she skillfully treated Mendelssohn. In the first and third movements,
her brisk play was apt to lose contact with the orchestra. However, her exceptional
talent was revealed in the highly concentrated musical sense of phrasing.
The second half of the program was Sibelius Symphony No. 2. Wolfe eliminated
romantic sentiment from the second movement with exceptional persuasion. Also,
he performed the introduction to the first theme of the finale free from any
sort of tenaciousness. Some may have felt lack of punch. But, I was overwhelmed
by the power, which gushed out of the sound.
The soloist and the conductor should be credited for the success of the concert.
Wolfe , Conductor
Century Orchestra Osaka 144th subscription concert
September 10, 2009
The Symphony Hall, Osaka
The Century Orchestra Osaka's 144th subscription concert was conducted
by Joseph Wolfe, a rising conductor from England.
The evening's program opened with Elgar Serenade op.20 and Sospiri,
which were followed by Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 with the pianist
Andre Watts and Haydn Symphony No. 104 "London".
Each work was treated by the performance that effectively exhibited its characteristics.
In particular, Elgar's works revealed their sensibility in the serene string
The second movement of the serenade was abundant in spontaneous singing. Those
were the expressions faithfully followed the sense commonly shared among British
In the performance of Sospiri, legato was particularly beautiful, and subtle
portamento created swaying sense of beauty.
In the Beethoven piano concerto, strings smoothly flowed. Watts' piano performance
had well-received placid lyricism. His colorful timbre lacked in depth. However,
the cadenza was powerful, creating exquisite contrast with the orchestra in the
second movement. In the third movement, Watts and the orchestra fully revealed
their respective power.
The performance of Haydn was also full of energy. The exposition was repeated,
giving a strong impression of period performance. The distinctive solid effect
was this conductor's characteristic. Sharp rhythm and clear articulation - another
lively, sophisticated rendition.
Tadao Koishi, Ongaku no Tomo, November 2009
RTÉ NSO / Wolfe
Mozart - Don Giovanni Overture.
Elgar - Violin Concerto
Sibelius - Symphony No 1
From the opening bars of a focused account of Mozart's Don Giovanni Overture
, it was evident that rising British conductor Joseph Wolfe can aim for
high intensity and control it. That was one of the characteristics of
Sibelius's Symphony No 1, which closed the concert.
This gripping performance had plenty of rhythmic drive, and Wolfe's way
of creating long-term momentum was successful.
Intensity was of the visceral kind - strong on extremities of volume
and tempo, but with little fine grading in the middle ground. Nor was
the sound particularly disciplined in orchestral balance.
Nevertheless, such strong and committed playing thoroughly deserved the
Despite that impressive conclusion, the performance that will linger
in my memory came before the interval, and not only because of Tasmin
Little's consummate playing of the solo part in Elgar's Violin Concerto.
She just played it, with little obvious striving; and she never milked
it for impact. Everything seemed just to happen; and it was especially
remarkable that a work famous for being, in the composerﾕs words, "awfully
emotional, too emotional," was captured so deeply via playing that was
It was hard to pinpoint exactly how the dynamics of the relationship
between soloist, conductor and orchestra were working, for everything
seemed to work as one. The complexity of Elgar's orchestral scoring was
subtly handled, with everyone listening as much as they were reading.
The way Elgar knits the solo part into the orchestral textures came across
beautifully. This was a rarity - a performance whose completeness was
something to treasure because, with any orchestra, conductor or soloist,
such transcendence can never be commonplace.
The Irish Times
London Philharmonic Orchestra
The confidence of youth
Paul Driver applauds three passionate performances at the podium
The young conductor Daniel Harding, like the composer
Thomas Adès, is
the subject of "portrait" concerts at the Barbican, a series mounted
by the London
Orchestra and opening with a spectacular account of Mahler's Seventh Symphony.
Strictly speaking, the start was a suite of dances from Rameau's opera Hippolyte
et Aricie, a charmingly inconsequential, crisply articulated baroque upbeat to
Mahler's monumental proto-modernist essay.
Harding was evidently at home in both idioms, but one soon forgot the Rameau.
The funereal tread and baleful tenor horn solo of the symphony's beginning -
a sonic combination that seems to claw one - announced a visionary serious-ness
that was sustained for some 80 minutes with unwavering insight. Harding's super-confidence
made for a super-clarity entirely appropriate to this score. The orchestra played
with fierce immediacy, but a sort of metallic brilliance; one, though, that was
full of dark undertones. The five disparate movements were hammered into a single
argument. The performance had the unanswerable assertiveness that defines true
A few days earlier, I'd heard a comparably masterful performance of a Mahler
symphony - his Ninth - given by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and its young
chief conductor, Ilan Volkov, at City Halls, in Glasgow. The withering force
of the burlesque third movement became ever more implacable, but by the end of
the death-struck, increasingly fragmentary finale, we were decidedly crossing
to "the other side". Aptly, the earlier part of the programme had been
the premiere of a work, Body Mandala, by that most spiritualist and Buddhist
composers, Jonathan Harvey.
To call this piece an "evocation" of the purification rituals that Harvey has
witnessed in Tibetan monasteries is almost a misnomer, for it seems to want to
be the thing itself. To this end, it throws up some strange sounds. A closely
entwined oboe quartet stands for the raucous four-note Tibetan oboe that Harvey
mentions, and we hear unearthly improvisings by Tibetan-cymbal players. The opening
pulsation of low brass A flats has a rough insistency that dominates the piece.
Defying such rootedness are unmetred wood-wind roulades that whizz off the page
and into space. In its alliance of joyous religiosity and biting orchestral inventiveness,
Body Mandala reminds me of such Stockhausen pieces as his 1974 Inori "adorations
for one or two soloists and orchestra". But Harvey has long flown free of
that decisive influence. His bright new score could not be by anyone else, and
did it proud.
A third young conductor came my way. Joseph Wolfe appeared with the
London Philharmonic Orchestra at Queen Elizabeth Hall in a solid programme of
Saint-Saëns and Sibelius. Wolfe is a son of Colin Davis (Volkov's late father
was the pianist of the Israel Piano Trio), but such conducting successions are
not uncommon: one thinks of the Kleibers, the Jansonses, the Jarvis. The conductor
to whom Wolfe bears a striking physical resemblance, however, is Gustav Mahler.
He came across as a sympathetic figure, warmly impassioned and well prepared.
He had his scores in front of him, but, in Schubert's Symphony No 8 and Sibelius's
No 1, rarely looked at them. His reading of the first had a powerful, tragic
tautness; the second was a more raw, less disciplined affair. Between the items
came a captivating account of the first, in A minor, of Saint-Saëns's two
cello concertos, with an amazingly skilful soloist in Pieter Wispelwey. It was
all in a minor key.
1st April 2007
The up and coming conductor,
Joseph Wolfe, oversaw this concert of works that spread from the dawn of
the Romantic movement in music to near
its illustrious close taking in a concerto from the very middle of
this period in the history of music.
Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony - he only completed the first two movements
- heralds a new sense of feeling in music that leaves behind the strictness
of classical sonata form for a broader view of musical expression. The
gift of any conductor in this particular work is to marry its marriage
of classical design with romantic content. Furthermore any interpretation
should be judged on proclaiming the genius of Schubert for expressing
everything from anxiety to valediction. Very few composers of any period
possess such diversity in their creativity.
The 'Unfinished' Symphony has become, unfortunately, aural wallpaper,
so popular, and so frequently is it heard. It gives special delight,
therefore, to report pleasure (hardly the appropriate word on hearing
this apex of Schubertian expression) from Joseph Wolfe's subtle and absorbing
interpretation that was here beautifully played. The quiet opening on
double basses gave way to a nervously inclined statement on violins that
launched the wide-ranging themes of the first movement. Sometimes fierce,
sometimes calm, all sides of Schubert's character were on display and
portrayed with the right sense of balance and integrity.
Likewise the second movement, Andante con moto, was true to its title
and never lingered. Wolfe found a range of expression from his judicious
choice of tempos that lifted the spirits and reinforced the essential
nature of well-being in the music. It was a fine performance.
Saint-Saëns's First Cello Concerto, written in 1873, is a good example
of the composer's formal innovations in musical structure. Compressing
material normally in three movements into one convincing whole displays
a mental agility alongside his romantic sensibility. Commentators often
proclaim a lack of depth in this French composer's output but, even supposing
this to be true, he more than compensated for this 'sin' by his formal
experimentation, none more so than in this popular concerto.
Played with the right spirit of romanticism, the Dutch cellist, Pieter
Wispelwey, propelled the start of the first movement with true ardour.
Never loosing his
intonation in the scurrying scale passages he balanced the various moods
with elegance and taste. The orchestra was well balanced by Wolfe who
allowed the soloist full reign in displaying tonal lustre.
After the interval came Sibelius's First Symphony, a work that ends a
decade of his nationalist- and often literary-inspired music with this
attempt at abstract musical expression. In fact the symphony is Sibelius's
response to Finnish critics who demanded evidence of his ability to write
a non-programmatic symphonic work. Sibelius was the Finnish musical hero
of the moment as the nineteenth-century drew to its close and would have
regarded the challenge for writing such a work with a mixture of trepidation
and relish. In fact what was meant to be the first of its kind in Finnish
musical history was usurped by a much younger Finn, Ernst Mielck, a real
musical prodigy who wrote an abstract symphony two years before Sibelius
composed his. Mielck's work is indebted to German romanticism as expected
from a pupil of Max Bruch. Sibelius's work is much more individual though
it does sound a lot like Tchaikovsky in places. However the very opening
for solo clarinet is striking for setting the tone of the entire work.
It also serves as a motto theme that is bought back at the beginning
of the finale. It is somewhat surprising to learn this was an afterthought,
though a truly inspired one, that appeared a year later when Sibelius
revised the work after its premiere in 1899.
What was remarkable about the performance under Wolfe was how the indebtedness
to Tchaikovsky was played down in favour of a true Sibelian sonority
even in the often-mushy slow movement. Wolfe accentuated the varying
woodwind themes above the string mêlée, which produced a
true freshness to the fabric of the work. Each movement had an authentic
gave the whole piece a semblance of formal unity rare in most interpretations.
The coda in the finale was a true summing up of the emotional roller
coaster heard before. Sibelius subsequently produced many more truly
idiosyncratic masterpieces but none was to reveal a romantic coherence
that lies at the heart of his First Symphony. It is to Wolfe and the
LPO's credit that this character was bought to the fore in this wonderful
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
The Dome Concert Hall, Brighton
Young British conductor Joseph Wolfe
produced some warm, rich and exciting music at his Brighton debut with
the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
He strode to the platform, raised his baton, and began with a magnificent
reading of Franz Schubert's Unfinished 8th Symphony.
Wolfe swayed, leapt and jumped around, injecting great fire and urgent
playing of quite exquisite music.
Although there may be no great depths in a Saint-Saens cello concerto,
Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey certainly produced some fast fireworks
in his account of the second Cello Concerto.
To end, Wolfe got yet another magnificent sound from the orchestra in
a passionate performance of Sibelius' First Symphony.
It was an epic account that must make him a future star.
The Argus - Brighton
22nd March 2007
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