Orchestra North East Presents ‘A Russian Gala’ At The Gala Theatre, Durham: Review

Mikhail Glinka – Overture to Ruslan & Ludmilla
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35
Alexander Borodin – In the Steppes of Central Asia
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a

Orchestra North East
Michael Bawtree (conductor)
Anna-Liisa Bezrodny (violin)

Gala Theatre, Durham
10/3/19

From the first note of Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan & Ludmilla, the audience were in for a treat. This overture, which was written for the composer’s second opera, brimmed with excitement. The Orchestra North East played scalic passages meticulously, with a flourish towards the end. The stage of the theatre expanded quite far back, making it difficult to see the woodwind, brass and percussion. But this also created a magical ambience when mysterious melodies floated out from the back of the orchestra.

A particular highlight was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D, spectacularly performed by Anna-Liisa Bezrodny. Her playing was passionate yet precise, complemented by the Orchestra North East’s sensitivity. The balance was impeccable, allowing the second movement to hold many special moments. But although the outer movements were impressive, there were moments where the orchestra was not responsive enough to soloist’s free treatment of tempo.

Anna-Liisa Bezrodny | © Daniel Herendi
Anna-Liisa Bezrodny | © Daniel Herendi

Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia was one of the lesser known Russian works on the programme. It depicts an oriental caravan crossing the wide grassy steppes under the escort of Russian soldiers. The haunting harmonics from the violins provided a bed for the lilting Russian melodies in the woodwind, resulting in an atmosphere that left the audience speechless.

The programme finished with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, which contains many audience favourites. The orchestra, led by conductor Michael Bawtree, captured each of the movement’s individual characters. A wide array of dynamic contrasts was mostly achieved, although the louder moments could have been brought out more. The Nutcracker was originally written as a ballet, and although one can appreciate its arrangement as an orchestral suite on its own terms, the accompanying ballet from members of Durham Dance inspired the imagination. Beginning with a remarkable harp cadenza, the Waltz of the Flowers made for a fantastic end.

Orchestra North East in Durham Cathedral (October 2018)
Orchestra North East in Durham Cathedral (October 2018)

Listening to the Orchestra North East was a pleasure, with their attention to detail and portrayal of many characters being particularly impressive. The Gala Theatre provided an excellent acoustic and the orchestra took full advantage of the spectrum of sounds it could create.