Violin Concerto in B-minor, Op.61
Symphony No.7 in D-minor, Op.70
Nicola Benedetti (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 26 April, 2019
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Some Classical Source writers have often bemoaned the present-day lack of Overtures (or equivalent) with which to open a concert. Yet in some instances, a programme featuring two major works is justified in itself, of which there could have been no finer demonstration than this BBC Symphony Orchestra event.
Although its popularity fluctuated over the course of the last century, Elgar’s Violin Concerto (1910) is now firmly established at the forefront of the genre and this performance projected its ample form and expressive opulence with no hint of inhibition. Sakari Oramo set a purposeful if never inflexible tempo for the opening Allegro, easing into its soulful second theme with unforced eloquence such as Nicola Benedetti duly enhanced on its arrival in the exposition. Nor was there any lack of drama in the intensive tuttis of the development and the coda, in which the BBCSO made light of their contrapuntal intricacy. The Andante was even better – its subtly contrasted melodies unfolded with a raptness that never cloyed and whose lingering regret was affectingly underlined when these merge during the wistful closing bars. The Finale is much the most difficult movement to make cohere. The opening half of what sets out as an impulsive sonata-rondo was confidently rendered, despite Benedetti’s tendency to rush at passagework, and though the initial stages of its accompanied cadenza were shot-through with expectancy, there was a marginal lack of focus once themes from the first movement are re-encountered. What was never in doubt was the rapport between soloist and conductor, sustained over the succinct yet affirmative coda and through to its emphatic close.
Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony (1885) made for a substantial second half. Even more so than usual, as Oramo opted to perform the Andante in its original version heard at the premiere but only published six years ago. While the salient themes are essentially the same, their handling in the central section is rather more discursive such that the composer was right to make the changes both here and at the climax – which lacked the fervency it acquired on revision. Prior to this, the opening movement was superbly delivered – Oramo duly heeding its maestoso marking through a steady and remorseless accumulation of emotion which held good into the coda with its febrile build-up then gradual subsidence into subdued resignation. Rarely can this peak of nineteenth-century symphonic writing have unfolded so inevitably. Not that there was much to fault in the remaining movements. The Scherzo was taken at a relatively steady pace as allowed its truculence full rein – the Trio emerging as an elegant though hardly untroubled interlude, with the closing bars biting in their incisiveness, and the Finale accrued weight as well as gravitas on its way to that always startling apotheosis in which Dvořák steers the music into D-major with a fatalistic sense of rightness, and in which the BBCSO gave its collective all to conclude what was an engrossing account.
Whether or not Elgar himself conducted the present piece, it was evidently one which made its mark on his lengthy emergence into a symphonist of comparable stature. How good it was to hear these works in the same concert – without the extraneous presence of a curtain-raiser!