Imperial March, Op.32
A Shropshire Lad
Clarinet Concerto, Op.31
The Arcadians – Overture
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
In a Monastery Garden
Michael Collins (clarinet)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 25 April, 2012
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham
For all his success in the world of Broadway musicals and Hollywood films, it’s good to see that John Wilson has maintained an active concert presence – not least with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, with whom his matinees of British and ‘light’ music have become regular and welcome fixtures.
This programme opened with Elgar’s Imperial March (1897) which, while it lacks a truly memorable melody in its trio, still evinces the vigour and panache the composer was shortly to make his own. How George Butterworth would have evolved had he not fallen in 1916 can only be guessed, but A Shropshire Lad (1912) suggests a potent force in the making. Wilson had the measure of its wide-eyed eloquence as it emerges out of and then back into the surrounding remoteness, while the CBSO sounded at one in a piece that it has likely played more than any other orchestra.
Equally Michael Collins has probably essayed Gerald Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto (1949) more frequently than any colleague (many will recall his performance at the Final of the first BBC Young Musician of the Year almost 34 years ago!), and he remains a formidable exponent of a piece whose expressive range and emotional depth become the more evident with each hearing. Having dispatched the trenchant opening Allegro with alacrity, Collins brought an appealing wistfulness to the Adagio – its rhapsodic demeanour allied to a keen formal subtlety – before the finale impressed with its alternating vigour and charm on the way to a resolute conclusion.
After the interval was an assortment of shorter pieces – commencing with the effervescence of Eric Coates’s London Calling and proceeding with the enticing medley that is the Overture to Lionel Monkton’s show The Arcadians (expertly arranged by Barwick Green creator Arthur Wood). Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1913) made an oasis of tranquillity, though Wilson was mindful that its progress is informed by a dance-like lilt, while the orchestra’s collective vocal prowess was atmospherically deployed in Albert W. Ketèlbey’s In a Monastery Garden (1915) – still among the most distinctive miniatures from the earlier musical eminence to hail from the Aston district of Birmingham. Robert Farnon then restored the high spirits with his irrepressible novelty Jumping Bean (1948), before Coates’s concert waltz Dancing Nights (1931) brought the advertised programme to a close with its evocation of a ‘golden age’ as expressed in the composer’s most suave manner.
The most substantial item in the second half was London Cameos (1947) by Haydn Wood which unfolds from the capricious miniature overture that is ‘The City’, via the ruminative intermezzo that is ‘St James’ Park in Spring’, to the stately yet never staid waltz of ‘A State Ball at Buckingham Palace’. Wilson made high claims for this suite that, if not quite justified by the music, were certainly enhanced by the poise and panache of the CBSO’s response. Nor were these players at all fazed by the hectic vigour of Devil’s Galop by Charles Williams (indelibly associated with the Dick Barton radio series), the encore brought the concert to a scintillating close.