Love Classics for Valentine’s at the Barbican centre : a marvelous night with a highlight.

There usually isn’t much variety in what you can add to pepper a Valentine’s eve with grace and romance; you wouldn’t want to miss these two either, or there is no point in making such a night so special. Musicians do think about you on that occasion and pull out to lovers a good reminder of the power that unites, when, you know, words are missing to explain what it’s about, when all is untold feelings. Love classics was a journey through every shade of musical love after an agile pick of pieces for a 14th February.

The show opened with Tchaikovsky’s fantasy overture from Romeo & Juliet and set the mood for a first half much appealing to classical music buffs. It is a piece full of inflorescent patterns that patiently builds-up, seemingly travelling through all emotions – passion, joy, hate, fear, anger, climaxing to sizzling upward fast scales that never miss to be striking when performed live by an orchestra. I can’t help but think of how history has so sadly wasted great bits by taking Tchaikovsky away from us before it was time.

The next piece was our gourmet’s main course of the night as well as the pièce de bravoure. Rachmaninoff’s no. 2 piano concerto in C is a long, colorful and tormented showcase of intensity. Satisfying the quest for complexity and romantic chord resolutions, young pianist Ji Liu was brought in for the occasion and displayed, as we’ve become accustomed it seems in this early XXIst  century, an amazing sum of talent and maturity for his seemingly young age. Ji belongs to this breed of pianists that need not to put up a flamboyant physical show to distract the audience’s.

Solely hands were at work to let the music do the talking, much like Liszt’s prodigy student Carl Tausig dismissed any form of spectakel at the same time he was rumored to have no pianistic equivalent.

After the break, we were recalled again how Carmen is an inextinguishable bag of head swaying, foot stomping tricks. A honorable mention goes to a detuned habanera, which I salute for giving the classical listener a different approach onto colors usually suggested by this piece.

I didn’t know the Intermezzo of Cavalleria Rusticana beforehand, which afterwards, looking on the web tells me for those who might remember, that it is performed in the ultimate act of The Godfather. The Lord be praised The Godfather didn’t have another sequel, by the way. That beautiful Intermezzo pictures a melancholic love on the edge, slightly unexpected harmonies at times foretelling us of a catastrophe to come, and of uncertainty. Which is why we then moved to Vienna for a more rejoicing Waltz to which every Valentine should take his beloved to (Strauss’ Roses from the South).

A no-fail recipe to crowning a success at any night at the concert hall if you ask me, the Bolero wrapped it all up. I’ve personally never been too keen on this piece, probably because I find it to be an unrisky crowd pleaser, though a tough nut to crack to any skilled orchestra. I know everyone is mad about, so I won’t do any harm to Ravel. What’s more is that I’ve never been to fond of encores either. When the show’s over, it’s over, isn’t it? But there we went and conductor Timothy Henty took up the stage again after a frank ovation, and blimey! He took me by surprise with Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago. A timeless piece performed marvellously in par with our memories of the movie. Bravo maestro Henty, I will remember your name and feel in safe hands next time you’re on my concert list, even if you do jump and hop a bit surprisingly for a conductor!

Author: Francois Mauld d'Aymee

Francois trains to become a classical singer at the same time he runs a tutoring company in Central London. He loves opera as much as any other kind of classical music, never missing an occasion to attend the great performances.