Royal Northern Sinfonia under Andrew Gourlay with Alexandra Dariescu (Piano) at Sage, Gateshead on 11th April 2014

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Billed as ‘Shostakovich Piano Concerto’ this title was presumably intended to entice the crowds with this popular concerto played by rising star Alexandra Dariescu. Well, Hall One was certainly well-packed, and they even opened the top level. The young guest conductor Andrew Gourlay (pictured) led the Royal Northern Sinfonia through the programme in the Classic FM series, starting with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, then Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.2 in F, and finally, filling the second half, Symphony No. 7 by Beethoven.

Shostakovich’s most famous concerto runs at quite lick and Dariescu kept the orchestra on its toes with her fluid playing. One of the unique challenges of being a pianist is performing on the piano provided, as of course pianists do not have the ‘luxury’ of travelling with their instrument. It’s difficult to appreciate this on a recording, but in a live performance I find it fascinating how aside from the technical wizardry of flying up and down the keys each pianist brings an individual sound to the instrument. Dariescu’s touch has a lovely singing quality to it, which she used to great effect in the first and second movements.

To start the concert, however, was a beautifully presented gem by the RNS. Tchaikovsky apparently wrote this four movement work at the same time as the 1812 Overture, giving the former all the warmth and feeling out of the two. The audience in Hall One so overwhelmed by the first and third movements clapped in between movements, much to the horror of classical music pundits. I found that touching though, given that it is such an arbitrary convention to save applause for the end. The RNS string section were on excellent form led by Bradley Creswick and moving as one through the precise trickier passages. The third movement well deserved its additional applause – the muted ending was gorgeous.

Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in the second half was full of vitality and Andrew Gourlay really seemed to connect successfully with the orchestra – at one point he was brewing the tension with the orchestra like he was spoiling for a fight. The RNS also brought out folk-like qualities in some of the melodies which I had not heard before, showing off the versatility of their repertoire. The glorious key changes pioneered by Beethoven were all handled perfectly and the energy of the work flowed. Overall, a lovely balanced programme of popular pieces that sat together well, and an excellent evening to show off our Royal Northern Sinfonia.

We returned to the hall after the end of the main concert for Royal Northern Sinfonia Presents… a more informal chamber performance by members of the orchestra where the piece is announced by the players prior to playing. Friday’s treat was three movements from Sinfonietta for 10 Wind Instruments by Joachim Raff (1822-1882), which showed off the individual talents of the horns and wind section.

Reviewer: Katie Lodge

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