Hulencourt Soloists Chamber Orchestra: Nelson Freire & Niklas Willen. Review by Barbara Lewis.

Wednesday, November 12
Flagey Studio 4, Brussels



Marche slave, Op.31 (Slavonic March)

György Ligeti
Concert Românesc

Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21

The Tempest, fantasy-overture for orchestra in F minor, Op. 18

It is a brave decision to celebrate anything Russian right now in Brussels, where politicians are exhausted by tense debates to try to solve Moscow’s conflict with Ukraine.

But embracing art’s ability to transcend national divisions, a young pan-European ensemble delivered Tchaikovsky at his most triumphantly Russian, as part of a vivacious and compelling beginning to its new season, known as the Hulencourt Art Project, which runs until May next year.

Under the baton of Swedish conductor Niklas Willen, the Hulencourt Soloists Chamber Orchestra opened with Tchaikovsky’s Slavonic March and closed with his symphonic poem The Tempest, more rarely played than his Romeo and Juliet, but whose riotously unsubtle climaxes were just as thrilling.

Again in the spirit of international harmony, the Hulencourt musicians, based just outside Brussels, are drawn from all over Europe. They are all young soloists (their average age is 28), led by German violinist Stefan Tarara, first prize winner this year at Romania’s George Enescu international competition.

In between all the Tchaikovsky, Tarara had full rein to display his virtuosity in Romanian avant-garde composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s Concerto Romanesc, with its dizzyingly high coda.

Such drama and unabashed showmanship have undoubted appeal, but for more contemplative tastes, the self-effacement of one of classical music’s most mature pianists Nelson Freire implicitly reproached them.

Still note-perfect at 70, the consummate Brazilian pianist offset the gusto of the new generation with a style characterised by quiet absorption to deliver an arrestingly limpid performance of Chopin’s Symphony Number 2 (in fact the first symphony Chopin wrote at the age of around 20, but the second to be published).

Such quality sets a high bar for the rest of the Hulencourt Art Project season, which continues until May 9 at various venues around Brussels and gives centre stage to pianists.

Cuban-born pianist Mauricio Vallina, who lives in Brussels, will perform a selection of Cuban classical music on Dec. 6, while Portugal’s Pedro Burmester plays Bach concertos with the Hulencourt soloists in January and in March Argentina’s Nelson Goerner tackles Liszt Piano Concerto Number One.

Barbara Lewis © November 2014.