Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Bliss, Cadogan Hall, London
Friday 05 November 2004
Cadogan Hall is London's newest concert hall and the new home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It was built at almost exactly the same time as the Wigmore Hall, in 1901.
Cadogan Hall is London's newest concert hall and the new home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It was built at almost exactly the same time as the Wigmore Hall, in 1901. The feel of the place is not dissimilar, with its barrelled ceiling, but at 900 seats it is bigger. There is an extensive balcony around the edge of the hall, as it happens completely empty on this, the first promotion of the RPO in its new abode. The RPO lost out in the "favoured status" accorded to the London Philharmonic and Philharmonia at the South Bank and clearly it will have to work hard to familiarise London concert-goers to this new venue.
It must have been a bit dispiriting to have so small a crowd but it was very pleasing to see some young people and indeed children. In Schubert's Unfinished, a tiny tot was having a whale of a time conducting. When she clapped her hands over her ears she had a point: this is a very bright hall and the volume can become painful. More serious perhaps is the whoosh of white noise, the air-conditioning, that threatens every silent or quiet moment.
No doubt the youngsters had come to hear a youngster not much older than themselves. At 15, Julian Bliss is an astonishing talent. In his bright red bow-tie and cummerbund, his diminutive figure was a marvellous sight. And Mozart's Clarinet Concerto can rarely have sounded so newly minted. After a slightly tentative start, he revealed a wonderful musical intelligence, far in excess of his years. He intuitively understands the operatic nature of the piece, shading the question and answering phrases to perfection, adding subtle and charming embellishments in natural good taste.
Playing a modern basset clarinet allowed him to play the work as Mozart wrote it - the basset clarinet became obsolete - superbly placing and relishing the deep notes unavailable to the ordinary A clarinet. His long, beautiful opening theme of the second movement sounded as though he was taking no breaths. And when the opening theme returned, his pianissimo was completely miraculous. Effortless virtuosity was displayed in the springy third movement rondo, charming and alluring like Tamino with his flute. Such imaginative playing would be stunning at any age. At this age, one can only wonder.
After the interval, Beethoven's 8th symphony rounded off the concert - but the young people were gone. To an even smaller crowd, Dirk Joeres, associate conductor of the RPO, presided over a neat performance.
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