Chauhan, Baeva and The Phion Orkest Find New Emotional Depths in These Turbulent Times
This winning combination of Alpesh Chauhan and Alena Baeva really did leave a lingering impression in the minds of this Dutch audience
These are turbulent times, and the world has changed so much in the past three weeks. The concert last night in the MusikCentrum, Enschede, given by the Phion Orkest van Gelderland & Overijssel sought to play its part in showing solidarity for those suffering in Ukraine. A minute’s silence was broken by a performance of the Melody by Myroslav Skoryk. The audience was mesmerised. Alpesh Chauhan, the young British conductor, son of immigrant parents from East Africa and of Indian origins, who had spent the previous week working with the London Philarmonic Orchestra and the Philarmonia, had the orchestra in the palm of his hand. Such sensitivity, dynamic range, and phrasing in such a short piece made me fall in love with a work previously unknown to me.
But all through this opening music, I wondered: who was this lady, sitting in the violins and not wearing all black? Then all was revealed, as the soloist, Alena Baeva, returned to the stage. The soloist had joined the orchestra in this tribute.
The performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto we were treated to this evening was not the usual bravura performance of technique and mastery of the instrument so often heard. Tonight’s performance was intimate and personal: a love song to a people ravaged by decades of conflict and turbulence. At times, there was such beauty in Alena’s playing that all I could do was gaze in wonder, my pencil redundant and still.
Alena Baeva, a Russian violinist from Moscow, is no stranger to the concert hall, having performed and recorded all over the world with some of the finest musicians in the world — Charles Dutoit, Marta Argerich, Steven Isserlis and Yuri Bashmet to name a few. Playing on a “ex-William Kroll” Guarneri del Gesù of 1738, kindly loaned from J & A Beares of London, Alena conjured a world full of lyricism coupled with fabulously clean and dazzling passagework as she built the intensity beautifully, leading us into the first orchestral tutti.
There is a certain lightness to Alena’s playing which draws you in, perhaps from her work on period instruments with the Orchestra of the XVIII Century. This was evident in the cadenza, a moment in a magical world where we witnessed playing of enormous emotional depth, broken only by the return to reality and the sound of a full orchestral symphony orchestra under the confident, assured, and at times playful direction from Alpesh Chauhan.
The first movement was over before we knew it; the tempo was so sprightly. It was so good, you could sense the whole audience just wanted to clap in appreciation, but we followed convention, and instead, took a deep breath and waited for more.
After the deeply lyrical slow movement, the exciting start of the third movement set off at a fearsome tempo and Alena’s clear articulation was matched by the orchestra. In the words of Hanslick, a reviewer at the 1881 premiere in Vienna given by the violinist Adolf Brodsky, it seemed as if the violin is no longer played but shaken, although in this case, it was not shaken black and blue as Hanslick thought! The violin at times became almost percussive as intensely lyrical sotto voce playing contrasted with fun, exciting and playful playing from the oboes and bassoons. All involved, clearly enjoying themselves. This is a performance I will remember for a long time to come. I would encourage all to seek her out, and witness for yourself this most beautiful of players.
The programming of this concert, putting Tchaikovsky and Brahms side by side, was of interest when I read that Tchaikovsky loathed everything that Brahms stood for and was completely unimpressed by Brahms. The conductor tonight, Alpesh Chauhan however, had declared his love for Brahms’ music, and this was evident from the intelligent and elegant reading of this 2nd Symphony.
Alpesh is an incredibly natural and relaxed conductor, with such an expressive and efficient conducting technique that the orchestra clearly relished playing for this most demanding of maestros. Brahms 2 is not a symphony I know terribly well, but Alpesh’s commitment to the music, even jumping up and down on the podium at times, was more than convincing.
Carefully measured climaxes contrasted with moments of tranquillity, and I really loved the fabulously dark trombone and tuba sound in the syncopated chordal passages. Special mention should go to the violins who more than rose to the occasion, meeting Alpesh’s every demand.
Alpesh seemed to totally understand the music and the composer’s intentions with such clarity that it was a joy to behold, and I left the concert hall with a new understanding of this work.
This was a concert full of contrast, and Alpesh Chauhan is a man of contrast. He is a star, and I will follow his career with interest.