Live Concert Review – from Sydney Opera House, Saturday 21 March, 2015

Janine Jansen violin

Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO)

Daniel Blendulf Conductor

Brahms Violin Concerto

Butterly Never this sun, the watcher

Sibelius Symphony No 5

Reviewed by Frank Shostakovich

Rating: ***** (5 stars)

Saturday night’s SSO concert featuring Dutch violinist Janine Jansen and her husband/conductor Daniel Blendulf was the finest outing for the SSO so far this year. After German violinist Christian Tetzlaff completely butchered the Mendelssohn Concerto here a few weeks ago, it was necessary for the orchestra, through no fault of their own, to get back on track and they did so with this husband and wife combination front and centre.

This duo, based on this performance, could really be onto something. Searching through her discography it is interesting to note that Jansen has yet to record the Brahms Concerto. However, there is an excellent and good quality video performance with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Bernard Haitink on YouTube which I would encourage everyone to watch.

If ever there was a CD waiting to be made, it is this one. Janine Jansen owned the platform from the moment she stepped onto it, up until the fading notes of her Bach encore (Sarabande from Partita No 2). This concerto has a long 90 bar exposition but from the opening bars you could see her entering her sphere of musical influence as she prepared for her formal solo entry into the first movement. For a while I thought she was going to join in with the first violins during the exposition, so engrossed she was in their playing. Her entry was sharp and edgy and her precision was without question. She displays a flawless technique, whether it be soaring high notes, aggressive double stopping or elegant phrasing of melody, she had the audience in deep thought and concentration throughout. For once, barely a sound was heard, bar some unnecessary audience interruption at the conclusion of the first movement. (Is is really that hard to hold your applause until the end of the piece? This shows the ultimate respect for the performer and their work).

Jansen’s mastery of the concerto’s cadenza towards the end of the first movement, left you wanting for more. The way it literally melted into the coda was one of the concertos many highlights. Special mention must also go to Diana Doherty, for her marvelous rendition of the famous oboe solo at the start of the slow movement. For those in the past who have criticised Brahms scoring of this melody, well, upon hearing her play it, they might well just run away and hide and wipe the massive amounts of egg off their faces. The rhapsodic finale was where the soloist/conductor duo blossomed completely. It’s clear they understand and read each other very well, just some economical eye movements were necessary to convey what was required. Her overall adherence to tempi and faithfulness to the score reflected Jansen’s ultimate professionalism and further cemented her standing as one of the world’s premier violinists. This was a superb performance of the Brahms Concerto and my guess is that it won’t be long before you see it on the shelves as her latest recording.

The second half of the program comprised of Australian composer Nigel Butterly’s Never this sun, the watcher and Sibelius Symphony No 5. Never this sun, the watcher is a compact 12-minute essay which employs large orchestral forces but whose tone colours are, for the most part, sparse and disconnected. Harmonically, the work is pleasant to the ear and some notable obligato passages by concertmaster Dene Olding, made it worthwhile. The orchestra paid due respect to the composer who was in the audience, at its conclusion.

The concert came to a triumphant conclusion with a performance of Sibelius’ monumental Symphony No 5. Long regarded as the best and most mature of his symphonic escapades, this work highlights the strength of Sibelius’ mastery in orchestration, particularly for brass and woodwind. These groups received special commendation at the end by Daniel Blendulf which they richly deserved. The opening horn and woodwind calls in the first movement which led into the searingly beautiful string passages and then back to the emphatic brass finale over the arpeggio string accompaniment, makes this movement one of his finest orchestral achievements. The slow movement was delicate and audacious and the orchestra rounded off the evening with a fast paced and fiery finale, right down to those sensational single chords which bring the work to its epic finish.

On a final note, special mention must again go to Janine Jansen for her graciousness and generosity towards her fans at the interval when she took the time to sign CDs in the southern foyer. Not every performer does this and it shows that she is not only in contact with the music, but also in close contact with those who have paid to see her perform. The queue was more than 20 metres long and I doubt whether all would have seen her during the allotted time for interval. There is one young fan who will wake up this morning with a newfound feeling of inspiration after her chance meeting with her. This young lady is a second year violinist at the Conservatorium of Music and she brought her violin case along for Jansen to inscribe and sign, which she did, without hesitation. The subsequent look on this student’s face made the entire evening worthwhile.

Maybe we’ll see her up there one day.

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