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Review: Brahms Double Concerto at Philharmonic Hall ****1/2

Artist in residence Simone Lamsma returns to Hope Street in the New Year to take centre stage with Sibelius’ haunting Violin Concerto.

But before that, a double act – and a delightful one at that – with French cellist Victor Julien-Laferrière, introducing Brahms’ Double Concerto to a modestly sized but noisily appreciative Thursday night concert audience.

Brahms wrote the work as a peace offering for his estranged friend Joseph Joachim, but it’s not simply a vehicle designed to let the violin shine.

It offers its soloists an equitable partnership, and Lamsma and Julien-Laferrière proved a happily unified duo in what is less a musical duel and more a conversation between friends.

It also uses the full range of both instruments in its contrasting and complementary solos and duets, and both soloists brought drama and a richness (and mellowness) of tone to the intricate cadenza which came early in the first movement.

Julien-Laferrière's cello was wonderfully sonorous through its lower registers, while together he and Lamsma created a toothsome sweetness as the opening theme returned towards the end of a movement also notable for some glistening orchestral sound.

A warm, honeyed adagio, introduced by the horns and with some lovely work from the winds, was followed closely by an enjoyably vigorous vivace finale, with the melody dancing conversationally between soloists and the Phil bringing burnished colour to its fortissimo theme.

Both soloists returned to reward their audience with an encore, a compelling performance of 19th Century Norwegian composer Johan Halversen’s Passacaglia - an elaborate adaptation of part of a Handel harpsichord suite.

Above: Simone Lamsma and Victor Julien-Laferrière take a bow at the Philharmonic Hall. Top: Conductor Domingo Hindoyan

The second half offered the residual heat from a winter getaway to Spain, if only in two composers’ imaginations.

Rimsky-Korsakov never set foot on the Iberian peninsula, and Debussy only popped over the border for an afternoon at the San Sebastian bull ring. But there was a sun-soaked shimmer to both pieces.

Debussy’s Iberia announced itself with an insistent rhythm on castanets (it was a busy latter part of the evening for percussion) and woodwind, and Domingo Hindoyan wove a sinuous path through an opening section which included lively clarinet and luminous trumpet bursts.

The second section, a balmy, scented Sirocco waft, brought with it a charming oboe solo from Jonathan Small and a finely controlled ripple through Debussy’s mille feuille of strings, while the cellos provided the engine room pulse for an atmospheric finale.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol was originally conceived for violin and orchestra, and guest leader Simon Blendis certainly had the opportunity to show what he could do, particularly in the recurring Alborada (dance) – joined in the third movement by Miquel Ramos on clarinet.

In fact, the piece, skilfully balanced by Hindoyan, offered 15 minutes (well, seconds) of fame for an abundance of players, leading to a busy bobbing up and down for individual bows after an entertainingly effervescent Fandango finale.


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