Half Holiday Overture, Op.52
E. J. Moeran
Symphony in G minor
Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op.30
Masa Tayama (piano)
Ealing Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 12 May, 2007
Venue: St Barnabas’s Church, London, W5
John Gibbons continues to build a fine reputation for championing British music long ignored by our professional orchestras. While better known British conducting tyros of a similar generation work their way through yet more Mahler symphonies, Gibbons promotes our own home-grown composers whose music has real qualities and requires to be played in front of capacity audiences at such as this concert.
Last year Gibbons and his Ealing Symphony Orchestra began the first London cycle of Malcolm Arnold symphonies, one each year played in chronological order. At this concert he reintroduced the unjustly neglected Symphony of E. J. Moeran, the Anglo-Irish composer whose greatest works were written before and during the World War II.
The Symphony in G minor is a magnificent work, of equal stature to any by his near contemporaries, Bax and Walton. It strives for the same Celtic world as Bax did in most of his seven symphonies. Both were indebted to Sibelius in formal and rhetorical terms (the scherzo of Moeran’s Symphony is modelled on that of Sibelius’s Fourth even to the final shrug of the timpani). But in such a magnificent performance as we heard under Gibbons, mere affectation seemed irrelevant against the powerful atmosphere that Moeran conjures up in each movement, culminating in a convincing finale that can appear sometimes a process of permanent musical storms that never reach a true climax. In this performance Gibbons balanced his large forces so successfully that the strings were never subsumed by the ominous darkness heard in the brass.
The work received a convincing interpretation with full measure paid to the composer’s powerful imagination. Gibbons believes in this neglected masterpiece and proudly displayed its manifold beauties to best effect. The audience loved it! Perhaps, with a change of guard announced, there will be a Proms performance!
Before the symphony another totally neglected British composer was allowed to show his credentials. John Gardner (born in 1917), 90 this March, is probably overdue for rediscovery according to this little overture. Gibbons, typically, has already played Gardner’s Third Symphony. Half Holiday Overture, lasting only three minutes, brings Walton’s zest to mind. This was splendid tribute to a composer who has written in most forms (Barbirolli premiered the First Symphony in 1951) and who should receive further accolade while still with us.
Cunningly judging the nature of the music in the concert, Gibbons programmed Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto and by the end of the concert we all grasped the reason why. Masa Tayama has a powerful and consistent technique capable of mastering this work’s formidable challenges. Nothing seemed to daunt him. Indeed there were moments where he rushed his fences so keen was he to display a sense of brilliance Unfortunately all this surface glitter came at a price of inward poetry. There was never a true piano. To an extent Tayama was battling impossible odds, namely a Fazioli piano noted for its brilliance of sound and a reverberant acoustic that often obscured the detail so carefully composed by Rachmaninov.
More poetic impulse would have produced a different effect than the one left by the end of what proved to be a rather exhausting experience. Gibbons and his players gave full weight to the soloist’s heavy-duty romanticism and were never guilty of obscuring the piano’s contribution.