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A commanding, intricate performance; REVIEW: BBC National Orchestra of Wales at St David's Hall, Cardiff.

ONE had to feel a certain sympathy for the chap sitting next to me at this opening concert in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales' storytelling season.

He explained that he could stay only for the first two pieces on the programme - Debussy's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune, and Ravel's Sheherazade - but would then have to leave to catch his train to Bristol.

To his considerable chagrin, this meant he would miss Jacques Ibert's Flute Concerto and Stravinsky's The Firebird, the final work in a concert that was an intoxicating mixture of impressionism and Neoclassicism.

The orchestra's account of Debussy's shimmering evocation of the afternoon of a Faun (a half-man, half-goat creature) was not entirely convincing, although the playing by the orchestra's lead flautist, Matthew Featherstone was as subtle and enchanting as it was when he played with Trio Anima at the recent Cowbridge Music Festival.

Mezzo soprano Sarah Connolly was entirely convincing in her account of Ravel's Sheherazade song cycle. Dressed in a striking silver-trimmed blue gown, her singing was thoughtful, sometimes plangent, but always captivating as she captured the shifting moods of the cycle.

My train man was so impressed that he decided to risk missing his train and stay for Ibert's Flute Concerto. It was a wise choice. Flautist Emily Beynon was astute and polished in her account of this colourful work. She embraced the technical challenges with brio and was inspired in her playing of the virtuosic first and third movements, while delightfully lyrical in the central Andante.

My man was probably on his train when conductor Thomas Sondergard took to the podium to lead the orchestra in a performance of The Firebird that was by turns brooding, enchanting and fierce. Debussy's influence was clear at the beginning. One could almost imagine his Faun had strayed into the Firebird's world.

It was a commanding, intricate performance by the orchestra, particularly in the powerful closing passages where Stravinsky certainly hints at the magnificent, influential Rite of Spring that was to come.

Peter Collins

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 15, 2016
Words:336
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