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S & H Concert Review

Pärt, Bruch, Sibelius: Akiko Suwanai, Japan Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi. RFH, Friday, March 8th, 2002 (CC)


Founded in 1956 by the Bunka Hoso Broadcasting Company, the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra brought with them one of the most exciting young violinists in front of the public today, Akiko Suwanai, whose disc of the DvořŠk violin concerto with the Budapest Festival Orchestra impressed so much (Philips 464 531-2). Certainly the Japanese contingent was out in force, and I have to say that rarely have I heard such a silent and attentive audience!

Before that, however, there was the intriguing linking of Estonia (times two!) and Japan in Arvo Pärtís Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977) and Fratres in its 1991 version for strings and percussion. Both works take basic building blocks and have an effortless, cumulative quality about them, and both would have benefited from more depth of sound from the string choir, but their basic attribute of inevitability nevertheless shone through.

Max Bruchís First Violin Concerto was the highlight of the evening: Suwanaiís mere presence seemed to raise the orchestral playing to a new level, although the more Europeanised ardour of her playing seemed to somewhat emphasise the coldness of the JPOís string phrasing. Her first note emerged effortlessly out of the wind chords, introducing a performance in which her superb technical security was totally in service to her impassioned playing. Always she had something to offer, from the expressive vibrato of the Adagio to the virtuosity of the finale (superb pitching). She has recorded this piece with the ASMF/Marriner on Philips 454 180-2, coupled with the Scottish Fantasy.

Depth of string sound was again problematical in Sibeliusí Second Symphony. But the point is that Järvi knows this score inside out and the performance was made so interesting by its wealth of insights. It was clear that an enormous amount of rehearsal time had gone into chordal balance as well as clear structural thought. Only the first movement struck me as too fast, Allegro/Allegrissimo rather than Allegretto.

An intriguing evening.

Colin Clarke

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