Review: Flanders Symphony Orchestra @ Leeds Town Hall – ‘most beautiful’

By February 25, 2016

Music. Leeds.

Pianist Nikolai Demidenko

Pianist Nikolai Demidenko

Commencing the proceedings with Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture serves as a bittersweet starter. The strings shift from subtle shades of darkness to a lightness of tone suitable for such an opera buffa. The Flanders Symphony Orchestra, under the leadership of Jan Latham-Koenig firmly at the helm, produce an ecstatic opening to the evening.

Conductor Jan Latham-Koenig

Conductor Jan Latham-Koenig

From the second pianist Nikolai Demidenko took to the stage to perform Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 1 in F sharp minor, Op 1, we know that this would be a real masterclass in pianism. Demidenko is adept and astute at the entire range of his instrument, from soft gentle caresses to passionate pourings of emotional outbursts that the piece demands. The second slow movement allows us to ponder Demidenko’s true technical brilliance as well as the subtlety of the piece itself. Following this the third movement seems like quite a tempestuous storm that the Flanders musicians cope with to great agility.


But for me the highlight of the show has to be a rare chance to hear Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question. This unusual piece is scored for string quartet, solo brass and four woodwind. But the exciting thing is to mute the strings they are installed in the foyer of the auditorium, their sweet sound drifting through the doorway. While the solo brass is up in the gods and the woodwind, the only visible instruments, at the back of the orchestra’s usual space. For such a relatively short piece it really packs a punch and is so intense and laconic to encourage meditation and a general drifting sensation – most beautiful.

Somehow I was not utterly convinced by the rendition of Brahms’ Symphony No 3 in F Major, Op 90, that is until the elegiac third movement that sweeps and swings with its familiar melodies. So the Flanders Symphony Orchestra seem to have adopted a wisely arranged programme that showcases their technical talents and ability to move and enthrall us throughout also.

Reviewed by Rich Jevons on 13 February 2016, Leeds Town Hall as part of the Leeds International Concert Season 2015/16.