Philadelphia comes to London the Curtis Symphony Orchestra

Curtis Symphony Orchestra at Cadogan Hall in London
Osmo Vanska conductor Peter Serkin piano
A strangely inhibited account of Brahms First Piano Concerto with Peter Serkin led to a full blooded virtuoso performance of Ein Heldenleben by Strauss .
Not only Maria Ioudenitch ,the concert master,played brilliantly but each section of this very large orchestra were allowed to play with all their youthful passion allied to a technical skill that is unique to the Curtis Institute.
Another hero to single out for her superb horn playing Sarah Boxmeyer.
Wonderful youthful exuberance in the two encores with Bernstein’s Candide and Prokofiev March.
Hats off to Osmo Vanska who had allowed these very fine young musicians a seemingly free reign and they in turn played with an evident joy and infectious enthusiasm that seemed to ignite the whole of the second half.
I well remember Rudolf Serkin’s remarkable totally convincing performances of the two Brahms Concerti at the reopening of the Royal Festival Hall.
His son Peter on the otherhand had gone on to make a name for himself as a very committed performer of contemporary music and it is only recently that we are hearing his performances of the classical repertory in this country.
Of course with a father called Rudolf and a grand father called Busch one can take for granted the superb musicianship of Peter Serkin .
There were some magical moments as in the two cadenzas of the first movement which seemed to appear from afar instead of the usually rather robust statement .
The etherial trills in the second movement were given an unusally free reign to great effect.
Rather over robust playing of the majestic main theme of the first movement with great upward movement of the arms that seemed to distract and led to some very harsh instead of robust sounds.
Very strange almost vibrating on the note in the quieter passages or could it have been the nervous tension that would not allow that total nervous almost frantic involvement that was so much part of the electricity that Rudolf could conjure up?
Here was all the temperament of his father but somehow one felt that he was not in a world that was totally his .
A fine performance in many ways much more assured than his second concerto at the Proms this summer but it was as though he was not totally convinced and therefore not convincing .
The orchestra played rather on tip toe as though they too were not completely conversant or convinced either.
However after the interval the orchestra playing Strauss’s great showpiece “A Hero’s Life” were totally in their element demonstrating just what it means to be one of the 4 per cent that are chosen from those that audition to be part the Curtis Institute’s 175 students that receive full time scholarships.
Forty percent of the student body comes to Curtis from outside the USA .
Over 20 nations are represented by the student body in a typical year.
Hence in the orchestra many oriental names abound and one only has to think that Lang Lang, Yuga Wang and our own Alexander Ullman all received their training in this noble institute to realise what it means to be a Curtis alumni .

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