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Review BBC National Orchestra of Wales, St David’s Hall, Cardiff, Barbara Michaels

Piano Concerto No 3 by Sergey Rachmaninov

Soloist: Yeol Eum Son

Conductor: Ryan Bancroft

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

A star performance of Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto – said to be one of the most difficult and challenging of piano concertos in the concert pianist’s repertoire -by the multi-talented South Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son was the choice of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for their opening concert of the season. Performed to a packed audience at St David’s Hall in Cardiff last night. (October 6th) and broadcast on BBC Radio 3, what a night it was! A diminutive figure in a black evening dress, soloist Yeol Eum Son gave those fortunate enough to secure a ticket an evening to remember. This powerful concerto, composed in 1909 but not given full acknowledgement until several years later, then becoming increasingly popular in the 1930’s when it was performed to great acclaim by Vladimir Horowitz, was given a supremely sensitive all-embracing performance throughout by Yeol Eum Som.

The opening movement, Allegro ma non tanto, was interpreted with sensitivity and skill, with Yeol caressing the keys as a lover might caress his or her beloved, to change into a powerful full throttle engagement with the keyboard. With her fingers flying so fast that at times the sight of them became a blur, this tiny almost unbelievably slender young woman switched effortlessly from the gentlest of melodies to the powerful octave-spanning moves that make this concerto a concerto to be feared for some soloists., thus making this performance a rare and special occasion. Yeol Eum Son’s ability to control and shape every poetic nuance – much in evidence in the great solo cadenza – plus her fearless and bravura attack on the most difficult of passages is awe-inspiring.

For the Intermezzo: Adagio-un poco piu mosso – a set of variations by the orchestra alone gives temporary rest to the soloist, notable among these at this performance being the short flute solo, performed with feeling despite its brevity, followed by solos from oboe, clarinet and horn. Then the piano bounces back with a powerful yet melodic attack on the keys ferocious in its brilliance, segueing seamlessly into the Finale Alla breve and a vigorous ending.

Full credit to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under the direction of their leader first violinist Lesley Hadfield. The rapport between the soloist and the conductor Ryan Bancroft, who have worked together many times was extraordinary and no doubt contributed to the high standard of a performance that had the audience shouting for more and bringing the soloist back four times. Broadcast on BBC Radio Three, this memorable performance gave its audience and those who listened at home, a night to remember and an opening night that bodes well for this great symphony orchestra during the coming season.

Please note due to ill health, Barbara reviewed only the first half of the performance.

Coming next:: Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, conducted by Markus Stenz . Thursday, 17/November, 2022, at 7.30 pm at St David’s Hall, Cardiff.

Review of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales Opening Season Concert by Roger Barrington


 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

There are moments in my life when I can pinpoint the occasion when I became enchanted by a composer.

Many years ago, back in the days of the LP records, I happened to buy a compilation of tracks, one of which was “Finlandia” by Sibelius. He has since been my favourite composer.

Then, around 1971, I watched Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice” and Mahler’s breathtakingly beautiful Adagietto from his 5th Symphony as Dirk Bogarde is transported on a gondola across the Venice Lagoon resulted in that composer becoming a favourite.

But Ralph Vaughan Williams, a contemporary of both, has never really done it for me. Until last night!

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, in existence for over 90 years, kicked off it’s new season at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, with a first half devoted to RVW.

Beginning with “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”, a piece that, of course I am aware of, (it has repeatedly been placed at 3rd place in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame Poll), by the time it had concluded – around 17 minutes later, I could happily have left the concert, thinking I had had my money’s worth. Except that I hadn’t paid any money because I was reviewing!

Within the first minute, I was emotionally drained by the sheer beauty of the piece, immaculately played by the String section of the orchestra. The mellowness and intensity that the players brought to this composition was superb. Written in 1910, and revised in 1913 and 1919, you can close your eyes and imagine yourself back pre- WW1 on a summer’s day in the countryside – only four years before the world went mad

And if that wasn’t enough, it was followed by another RVW composition, “Songs of Travel”. Nine songs that again conjured up strong images of rural England sung by the world renowned baritone Sir Thomas Allen.



Sir Thomas, now aged 74, still has the vocal ability to render justice to the nine songs. In addition, his considerable acting talents allowed him to deliver the songs perfectly, stamping his own individual style of delivery – a talent that has him recognised as one of the great baritones of the world.

Upon arriving home, I just had to listen to the Fantasia again and followed it up with RVW’s “Pastoral Symphony” – I’m hooked!

After the interval, the crowd-pleasing, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky with amazing orchestration by Maurice Ravel, was the sole piece played. This composition for full orchestra, needs tight control and at times restraint, all leading up to the thunderous climax of “The Great Gates of Kiev”. I’m certain that many of us left the auditorium with Mussorgsky’s masterpiece ringing in our ears. Upon its conclusion, the rapturous reception of the audience matched the orchestra’s panache.

All of this under the baton of Japanese conductor Tadaaki Otaka.

Otaka San was principal conductor of BBC NOW from 1987 to 1995 and is now Conductor Laureate of the orchestra. He has a fondness for British music, and this is clearly apparent on the evidence of the orchestra’s performance last evening.

A truly memorable event, and a fitting concert to commence the BBC NOW season.

In December the orchestra tours China and visits my former home in Wuhan, Hubei. I will be urging my ex-students to turn out.


Roger Barrington