The Royal Philharmonic returned to the Derngate this week with a concert culminating with Fauré’s Requiem. Very pleasing to see that there was hardly a spare seat, as quite rightly these concerts attract many happy music lovers.
Our conductor for the evening was Owain Arwel Hughes. He has an avuncular presence on the podium, letting the music be the star, smiling encouragingly in all the right places, keeping his orchestra perfectly together and sounding sweet. Sweetness was very much the order of the day, as the central work was Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1 with Andrew Zolinsky as the soloist. I was new to this work, and if ever a piece was delicate this is it. I don’t mean to sound patronising about it, but it is a thoroughly pretty piece of music. It conjures up images of waterfalls and pixies and jewels and fairy dust. Andrew Zolinsky sat tense and tetchy on his stool as the long orchestral introduction ensued, but once he started playing he relaxed into this marvellous escapist dreamlike piece. It was a very luxurious experience. Not particularly demanding for the audience. More like bathing in honey.
There was more oomph in the other pieces though. The evening started with Handel’s Zadok the Priest, a piece I can never recall until I hear the first couple of notes. It was full of the regality and splendour you would expect and the choirs – the Northampton Bach Choir and the Boys and Men of All Saints Church – were in fine voice. Really stirring stuff.
After the interval we had Fauré’s requiem and again the choirs gave a super performance, strong and subtle in turn. For our soloists we had Elin Manahan Thomas for the Pie Jesu and Giles Underwood for the baritone parts. It seems slightly unbalanced that you have a singer of the quality of Elin Manahan Thomas come and perform for barely three minutes, but they were exquisite ones, so I’m not complaining. I love Fauré’s Requiem and it was excellent throughout. The strings hit a forceful and portentous note from the start, the singing was haunting and beautiful and you just felt like it was a privilege to be there.
There was an amusing end to the evening when after the Choirmaster had come down to take a bow to richly deserved enthusiastic applause, two bouquets were brought out for the soloists; the first went to Ms Thomas, but the second one bypassed Mr Underwood and was given to the Choirmaster by mistake, so that we had a bereft baritone! Another splendid concert by the RPO, we’re very lucky to have this season here in Northampton.