Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

The short-lived Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps (1918) gets programmed quite often these days whatever the season. Her generally carefree impression of a spring morning is skilfully painted, scored with clarity, a watercolour mostly bright yet not without a passing dark cloud, nicely framed and exhibited by John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London.

Alim Beisembayev (winner of Leeds two years ago) replaced Benjamin Grosvenor and gave an account of Rachmaninov’s C-minor Piano Concerto that presented it familiarly with much artistry, not least a gentle touch that illuminated the intimacy of the slow movement. Elsewhere, without resorting to indulgence or showmanship, Beisembayev brought aristocratic and agile qualities to bear, not revelatory but refreshing, and with subtle use of dynamics, all of his exposés making this ubiquitous work seem new-minted, for which Wilson and the Sinfonia played their part with a range of intensities and phrasal ‘pulls’ that belonged to the music and complemented the pianist, Beisembayev going on to electrify the Hall with ‘Infernal Dance’ from Stravinsky’s Firebird, presumably in Guido Agosti’s transcription, Beisembayev’s fingers amazing in their speed and accuracy.

Walton’s magnificent First Symphony – premiered twice, 1934/35, second time with the Finale, both performances conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty who also recorded the work – received a Sinfonia/Wilson outing that didn’t quite hit the spot – a first movement that was vital enough if short on underscored passion (yet with a several-bar passage of daring pianissimo that astounded) and then a Scherzo fleet enough if short on malice. However, the melancholic Andante was deeply felt and ardent, shifting sounds that suggested a love that has slipped through the fingers lost forever, although the final movement was first and foremost about speed and, however well-prepared and -played, with detail not always pristine (surprisingly), and for all the energy and power in evidence, as well as classy solos and unstinting tuttis, these were not enough, for overall there was little to underpin why this masterpiece should be as it is; it’s rare that Walton One comes across as glib.

An encore seemed unlikely, but we got one nonetheless, an orchestration by Nelson Riddle of George Gershwin’s Prelude No.2 for piano, languorous and laidback, perhaps too slow, although in fact finding Wilson at-one (more or less) with Riddle himself in 1959.