Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill at The Anvil Basingstoke – Frank Bridge’s Enter Spring & Elgar 1 – Jesper Svedberg plays Saint-Saëns

Enter Spring
Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.33
Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55

Jesper Svedberg (cello)

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
David Hill

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 7 March, 2013
Venue: The Anvil, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England

This enticing programme sandwiched a French work between two from England. The splendour and energy of the latter pair put the former in the shade; a victory for the home side, you might say. Bookending the concert with Frank Bridge and Edward Elgar proved to be an inspired decision, as it contrasted two threads of the English Musical Renaissance and pushed the Bridge’s into a much deserved spotlight.

Bridge is still seen in the light of Benjamin Britten, who did much to promote the music of his teacher, but the relatively rare outings that his works enjoy reveal a composer of great range. Enter Spring, completed in 1927, basks in the spreading warmth of its seasonal inspiration, casting off the darkness that haunts many of Bridge’s later works. It might not be typical of that period, but it exposes the composer’s inspirations (Debussy could have written the opening pages) and musical proximity to Bax and perhaps Delius. There’s something more unruly about Bridge’s harmony, though; this is the casting-off of nature’s wintery shackles, and having fun while doing it. It enjoyed a really feisty performance from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under David Hill, one which teemed with bustle and bravura while taking care over the more reflective moments.

If Saint-Saëns’s First Cello Concerto felt tame and polite in comparison, it wasn’t the fault of Jesper Svedberg, whose taut and precise performance invested the work with perhaps more expressive force than it warrants. Svedberg – the BSO’s principal cellist – was undermined by a rather straightforward accompaniment that didn’t do the piece any favours either. Ideally, Hill could have answered Svedberg’s passionate phrasing with more nuanced direction.

The effect of Hill’s conducting was quite different in Elgar’s First Symphony. His tendency to smooth the music’s course created a constant flow, particularly in the first two movements. This was somewhat at the expense of detail and delicate shading, but it revealed the shape of the whole and paid particular dividends at the Symphony’s conclusion, where the reappearance of the ‘motto’ theme created a moment of superb uplift. If any movement disappointed, though, it was the Adagio, which lacked the nobility and bursting pride so synonymous with Elgar’s more-tender moments. No matter – this was still an engrossing performance, finding the BSO on terrific and energetic form.

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