Adventures in Music: NLO Concert – 10th December

Festival Overture, Op.96
Military Sinfonietta, Op.11
Sate orch. Corp
Gnossiennes 1 & 3
Vaughan Williams
Toward the Unknown Region
Walton arr. Sargent
Henry V – Suite
Calling All Workers
Happy Japan; Japanese March; Before our Eyes (The Geisha)
Carnaval de Londres (excerpts)
Academic Festival Overture, Op.80

The London Chorus, New London Orchestra conducted by Ronald Corp (presenter)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 10 December, 2001
Venue: UCL Bloomsbury Theatre, Gordon Street, London

No one could ever accuse Ronald Corp of putting together dull or uninteresting programmes. The present concert, the first as part of the New London Orchestra’s residency at UCL Bloomsbury, was typical in its blending of unfamiliar and unexpected repertoire; music often regarded – indeed dismissed – as ’light’, but with enough variety and emotional range to sustain attention throughout.

The main interest was undoubtedly the Military Sinfonietta of Vitezslava Kaprálová. Having studied in Prague with Vitezslav Novák and Václav Talich, she later studied in Paris with Charles Munch, Nadia Boulanger and Martinu. It was her relationship with the latter, as much as the atmosphere of encroaching war, which gave rise to Martinu’s masterly Double Concerto of 1938. Tuberculosis had steadily undermined Kaprálová’s health – she died in Montpelier in 1940 aged just 25. Composed during 1936-7, the Military Sinfonietta was first performed in Prague in 1937 and heard in London the following year as part of the International Society for Contemporary Music, the composer conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Queen’s Hall.

Cast in a single movement lasting fourteen minutes, the work has a symphonic momentum and formal follow-through, the presence of Janácek’s Sinfonietta enlivening the objective classicism of Hindemith and Roussel. A brusque ’Tempo di Marcia’ is followed by an ingratiating ’Andante e cantabile’ before an animated ’Allegro con brio’ heralds the expansive central ’Andante’; then there’s an agitated ’Allegro moderato’ that builds to a climactic ’Maestoso’ before the piece surges to its affirmative conclusion. This was a tough assignment for the NLO, its members responding with the required vigour and enthusiasm. This is strikingly individual music by a composer whose all-too-small output needs further investigation.

Having opened proceedings with a rumbustious account of Shostakovich’s Festival Overture, Corp included his own orchestration of two of Satie’s mysterious Gnossienne – given a wistful overlay in the manner of Debussy’s well-known arrangements of two Satie Gymnopédie. The first half closed with Vaughan Williams’s Toward the Unknown Region, the Whitman setting that gave him his first real success at the 1907 Leeds Festival. Corp kept a firm hand on the music’s progress from pensive searching to unbridled triumph, the effusive latter stages never sounding overblown.

Opening the second half was Sir Malcolm Sargent’s concert suite from Walton’s film-score for Henry V. Less frequently heard than Muir Mathieson’s arrangement, Sargent omits the battle sequence but includes an (over-) extended version of the ’Overture’ with its depiction of theatrical preparations at The Globe. Corp gained a bracing choral response in the ’Agincourt Song’, and reminded what a heart-easing miniature is ’Touch her soft lips and part’.

Eric Coates made a spirited appearance with his ’Light Programme’ favourite, Calling All Workers, but James Sidney Jones was heard to little advantage in three brief extracts from his 1897 Japanese musical, The Geisha. Milhaud’s vast output features a range of pieces suitable for a programme of this kind, and the eight pithy extracts from Carnaval de Londres, using tunes drawn from The Beggar’s Opera, made a pleasing impression. The concert ended with Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, emerging here as an earlier counterpart to Elgar’s Cockaigne, with the chorus, not requested by Brahms, on hand to contribute a rousing ’Gaudeamus Igitur’ at the close.

Overall, an engaging and capably executed programme, the NLO coping well with the airless acoustic of Bloomsbury Theatre, and an encouraging trailer for the ’Passing Through Paris’ concerts scheduled for the first half of 2002.

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