“Hugely-talented” soloist rises to the challenge of Brahms

Herts Advertiser critic Geoff Ward was charmed by Alissa Firsova’s “warmly expressive playing’ in Brahms’ D-minor piano concerto

Alissa Firsova rehearsing with Tom Hammond

Alissa Firsova rehearsing with Tom Hammond

St Albans Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of their dynamic new conductor, Tom Hammond, gave a convincing account of three very challenging works at St Saviour’s Church, St Albans, last Saturday, 6th May.  They began with the first of Jean Sibelius’ many tone poems, En Saga, written in 1892 when he was 25.  There were some string intonation problems in the quieter passages; the final dissonant, fast section and the bleak ending with the clarinet solo “fading into stillness” (quoting the very informative programme note) were very well executed.

Then followed another Sibelius tone poem, Pohjola’s Daughter, written in 1906 and inspired by Finland’s epic national poetry, the Kalevala.  Tom Hammond is very keen to engage with the audience; he first explained its various sections with the help of the orchestra.  This is highly laudable, but it would have helped if he had been aided by a microphone, as he could not be heard very well at the back of the church.  The orchestra gave a very satisfying account of this highly complex work, the brass section being in particularly good form.

The second half featured Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto no.1. Often in the shadow of his better-known second concerto, it is – in the opinion of the writer – a better and more pianistic work, with piano and orchestra answering each other to dramatic effect.  The soloist was the hugely talented and well-known local pianist, composer and conductor Alissa Firsova, whose warmly expressive playing in the quieter sections was delightful.  She was, however, nearly drowned out by the orchestra in the many loud, fast sections, but managed to hold her own to great effect.

There were issues of intonation and timing in all groups throughout the concert, but they did not detract from my enjoyment of the evening’s performance.

Herts Advertiser

11th May 2017