Review / The National Capital Orchestra at Llewellyn Hall

“Pianos and Pictures” National Capital Orchestra Llewellyn Hall August 16, 2015 Review by Clinton White

IT was good to welcome Dr Edward Neeman back to Llewellyn Hall, along with his wife, Dr Stephanie Neeman, for a concert with the National Capital Orchestra and its new conductor, Leonard Weiss.

The program of French and Russian music was a real crowd-pleaser, starting off with a rollicking frolic through the “Concerto for two pianos and orchestra” by Francis Poulenc.

The Neemans kept the two magnificent concert grands in beautiful balance with the orchestra and each other. Both got virtuosic bits and pieces of their own but, overall, the piece was a delightful, light and lively romp with shades of Mozart and jazzy Ravel.

The soloists worked together superbly with lovely tonal balance, volume control and timing precision.

The orchestra provided nice support, giving just the right emphasis and moving things along gently and lusciously exactly where needed. On occasion I noticed the tuning of some orchestra sections with the pianos was not quite right, but that did not detract at all from the enjoyment of the work.

Edward Neeman returned to the stage to close the first half with Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”, certainly an audience favourite in this concert.

Neeman played Rachmaninoff’s music with much empathy for his grand compositional style. It’s full of expression, big chords and lots of runs. It ranges from the dark to the light, lively to reflective and, of course, the famous 18th variation, well and truly hitting the button of romance. Neeman, quite simply, was brilliant.

Not satisfied, the audience demanded more and the Neemans returned to the stage for an encore; they squashed onto a single seat for a piano duet of “To Life”, from “Fiddler on the Roof”. Edward had written the arrangement especially for their wedding four years ago.

After the interval, Weiss led the orchestra through Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an

Exhibition”, which he wrote for his artist/architect friend, Viktor Hartmann, who died suddenly at 39 years of age. It’s a so-called “programmatic” piece, depicting Mussorgsky’s visit to a retrospective exhibition of Hartmann’s paintings and sketches.

The ten “movements”, interspersed in some cases by a short “promenade” theme are musical interpretations of everything from gnomes, to mediaeval troubadours, to a ballet, to the catacombs and the most famous movement of them all and the last in the work, “The Great Gate of Kiev”.

Weiss and the orchestra handled the many thematic demands of this work with confidence, although there was an occasional tentativeness. However, Weiss’s direction was decisive, drawing from the ensemble much light and shade and quite nice precision.

To my mind the final movement was a tad slow, making it sound a little ponderous. Even so, it was a grand conclusion to this popular work.

Llewellyn Hall certainly was not wanting for audience numbers for this concert. That it was so popular is a credit to the quality of the playing and program choices made by the National Capital Orchestra. Leonard Weiss and the orchestra have a good future together.

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