Sunday, 15 March 2015

Review: Royal Northern College of Music Strings at Live at LICA

Royal Northern College of Music Strings at Live at LICA
Thursday, 12 March 2015
in the Great Hall, Lancaster University

Reviewed by Henry Prince

Watching later as these 70-80 kids meandered across the empty stage in their street clothes with instruments in hand, on their backs or in tow, heading for the transport back to Manchester, it occurred to me that none of them was really old enough to appreciate how very good they were. They had just given the most thrilling rendition of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht anyone is likely ever to hear at any time. Schoenberg at his late Romantic diatonic best, his pre-atonal peak, played by tomorrow’s musical leaders patiently awaiting the opportunities to audition for those rare and highly-coveted orchestral positions up and down the land and across the world.

The orchestra was huge! More the size of a full orchestra, including woodwind, brass and percussion, but this one was strings only. One might think that the size was dictated by the need to make a louder sound or perhaps to provide as many students with the opportunity to play as possible, given that this concert was a part of a continuing collaboration between Live at LICA International Concert Series and the Royal Northern College of Music.

Henk Guittart
Those who were present at the (poorly attended) pre-concert talk learned, however, that the over-riding reason for the large number of players was related wholly to a single artistic demand. The conductor Henk Guittart pointed to the paradox that the larger the number of orchestral players, the
more effective a pianissimo. One might even say that a large pianissimo is in fact quieter than a small one, each player contributing to the quietness, in a way similar to the ‘greater’ silence that can be achieved when there are more people present, each having the individual capacity to break it. This is the difference between a ‘silence’ and a ‘breath-taking silence’.

He was right. The pianissimos executed by the massed ranks of strings positively shook the foundations of the Great Hall with their silent energy. Like the intensity of a great tsunami just before it makes landfall.

Given that Schoenberg originally composed Verklärte Nacht for string sextet, producing the arrangement for string orchestra many years later, it was fitting that the first half of the programme was devoted entirely to two string sextets (the classic string quartet ensemble with additional viola and cello). The one by Richard Strauss was in fact the prelude to his opera Capriccio. It was a lovely work produced many years after Schoenberg had turned his back on the Romantic style; of course it was played magnificently. The musicians seemed to have known one another for years and years. (Perhaps they have!)

Of the three programme items, the Brahms sextet was the earliest piece, having been composed a few years before Schoenberg’s birth. Brahms being Brahms, no audience could ever be disappointed. These young performers made absolutely sure though that the listener’s experience was perfect, Brahms or not.

It may well have been the cold evening rain that deterred some concert regulars from leaving the comfort of home. Possibly everyone should in future mark the diary entry as ‘unmissable’ whenever the ticket reads ‘RNCM’.

H. Prince

RNCM website:

Concert Programme:
Richard Strauss: String Sextet from Capriccio, Opus 85
Brahms: Sextet for Strings in B-flat major, Opus 18
Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht, Opus 4

Tickets were priced (24 web saver):  Adults £17.50, Concessions £15.75, Students and under 26s £8.00

Future musical events at Live at LICA:

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