Review – Ravel’s Bolero and other orchestral works, RPO, Derngate Northampton, 7th February 2010

BoleroLast Sunday the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra had another of their concerts at the Derngate. You could have called the programme “Classic’s Greatest Hits” as every piece was a popular favourite. Again a virtually full house enjoyed an invigorating night of super sounds.

They opened with Night on Bare Mountain, performed with verve and vigour, and showed that the violinists really do need strong arm muscles. That was followed by Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which seared as it ought and held the audience’s attention firmly – not a cough, sweet wrapper or rustling to be heard at all in the quiet bits. Well done the crowd.

John Rigby The conductor was John Rigby. An amiable man, who had a microphone so he could chat to the audience a couple of times. In his introduction he reminded us of Andre Previn and Eric Morecambe’s performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto, as that was to feature in the evening’s schedule. He promised us that Sarah Beth Briggs would indeed play all the right notes and in the right order.

So it came to the time when Sarah Beth Briggs would take to the piano for the Grieg, which would close the first half. I promised Mrs Chrisparkle that I would do my best from singing the “Song of Norway” during the performance, although it was a struggle and I had to let it our during the interval.

Anyway. Ms Briggs is seated and looking expectantly at Mr Rigby. Mr Rigby turns to the orchestra and lifts the baton. The famous accelerating drum roll at the beginning of the concerto starts up. The orchestra all perfectly hit that A with a triumphant oomph. But where was Ms Briggs? It was almost as though she had forgotten that she had to play too! Her opening chord felt like a complete age after the orchestra’s. In reality it was probably less than a second but ithe gap sounded agonising. And not only that, the next time she and the orchestra had to play that big chord together, she was late again. My head was buried in my hands at this time. However – I have to say, the rest of the performance was fantastic and no further criticism is needed or deserved. It was totally stirring. Mrs Chrisparkle was well impressed.

After my second Sauvignon Blanc, it was time for the second half. The Sabre Dance started us off – extremely well; then it was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol (aka Torville and Dean’s Paso Doble) and Ravel’s Bolero (aka Torville and Dean’s Ravel’s Bolero). Both were pretty damn exquisite. The Capriccio Espagnol really got in to the Spanish mood and the relentless growth from zero to hero of the Bolero was controlled, then motivated and finally explosive. Fab!

By the way, I was going to add a nice photograph of Sarah Beth Briggs to this blog but no matter what I did with the photo I couldn’t get her to sit upright. She would always be 90 degrees to the left, or 90 degrees to the right, no matter how many times I edited and saved the file on my pc, on wordpress, wherever. So I gave up.

My father always used to call Rimsky-Korsakov “Rip Your Corsets Off”. Did anyone else’s?