REVIEWS: Brighton Festival

Reviews by Andy Warren

Elias String Quartet - The Beethoven Project part 3, All Saints’ Church.

What a magnificent evening’s entertainment was to be had as the Elias String Quartet performed the penultimate concert in their ambitious cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets (or in one case quintet- but more of that later)

Unlike the first concert where the venue often swamped the delicate nature of the works there were no such concerns here as the music swelled and filled the high stone vaults of All Saints’. Even the adagio movements which got lost last time seemed to hang and shimmer in the air in what was a truly magical evening’s music.

We started with Quartet in F major (op 18) and I must particularly mention the adagio affetuoso ed appassionato which is based loosely on the tomb scene from Act 5 scene 3 of Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps on this occasion the gothic setting of a church added to the melancholy of the tragic pulsing music.

The second presentation was the Quintet in C major (op29) and for this guest violist Malin Borman from Sweden joined the players. Composed in 1801 this operatic work had the benefit of an additional viola which added to the richness of the sound particularly in adagio molto espressivo where Donald Grant’s second violin’s pizzicato underscored the other instruments and was not lost in the space.

After the interval we were treated to the quartet in A minor (op 132) which is one of the longest of the concertos coming in as it does at near three quarters of an hour but at no point did the time or the music drag.

As ever with the Elias, the playing was crisp, sharp and highly lyrical and it was clear that the quartet knew they were producing something very special indeed and I look forward to the final concert on the 23rd with immense pleasure.

Philharmonia Orchestra and the Brighton Festival Chorus - Bernstein, Ravel and Stravinsky, Brighton Dome Concert Hall.

Wow. Oh Wow. No, really … just wow. Sometimes Brighton Festival throws up a performance of stunning, world class quality. A performance where the charged atmosphere is filled with dramatic music that crackles with electricity, where the players and audience suddenly realise that something very special indeed is happening, where the orchestra is grinning at each other and the audience on the edge of their seats. The great and good of Brighton turned out in all their swish for a truly magical evening

We opened with Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms composed for the Chichester Festival in the early 1960s. The dramatic open chords and the frankly superb, crisp singing of the Festival Chorus were an early indicator to the audience that were in for a real treat. The second psalm (Psalm 23) was beautifully sung by boy treble Leo Blair who soared above an eighty piece orchestra – no mean feat.

The second offering was Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major which was magnificently played by French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. His dramatic performance was full of wit and deep emotion particularly the adagio assai movement where his technical virtuosity effortlessly gave voice to the cascade of demisemiquavers.

After the interval we had what was perhaps the highlight of the night for me: a stunningly thrilling rendition of Bernstein’s Suite from “On the Waterfront” his music from the 1954 Brando movie. This raw and jazzy work introduces the concept of the New York soundscape which seeks to recreate the buzz and energy of the city that never sleeps.

Lastly both orchestra and chorus, now fair buzzing with energy and sheer delight, swept through Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. It’s been a long time since I heard Stravinsky live and I had forgotten how much of a debt to his work that John Williams paid with his Star Wars score. I could quite hear the millennium Falcon sweeping through the asteroid field during the Laudate Dominum.

Judging by the frenzied applause, whoops and cheers at the end, the audience certainly showed that they knew they had been treated to a remarkable evening.