Forest Philharmonic at Queen Elizabeth Hall – Tchaikovsky [Gemma Rosefield plays Elgar’s Cello Concerto]

Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Gemma Rosefield (cello)

Forest Philharmonic
Andrew Gourlay

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 3 February, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Andrew Gourlay. Photograph: andrewgourlay.comFounded in 1964, the Forest Philharmonic is a community orchestra made up of music students, professional section leaders and talented amateurs. The orchestra frequently performs around its North London base of Waltham Forest and this concert was a high-profile excursion south of the river. As with any such ensemble, it’s folly to expect a flawless display of collective music-making, but what the Forest Philharmonic managed so well was a sense of considered performance and a surprising degree of polish.

A pair of works by Tchaikovsky sandwiched Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Romeo and Juliet immediately revealed some of the orchestra’s strengths; immaculate balance in the winds and a careful establishing of atmosphere were traits evident throughout. Andrew Gourlay (recently appointed by Mark Elder as Assistant Conductor of the Hallé) favoured steady tempos, allowing the players the security to focus on balance and tone, but he was no slouch in the agitated music, producing a dramatic and hugely enjoyable performance.

Tchaikovsky’s Fifth presented the greater challenge and there were times when the strings were pushed beyond its collective comfort zone. Yet there were many moments to savour; excellent tone and phrasing from the pair of clarinets at the symphony’s outset and a well-paced unfolding of the music’s excitement. Particularly fine was the glowering introduction to the Andante and the sense of distance achieved by principal horn Martin Grainger; many professional ensembles would not be able to bring much more unity of phrasing or concentration to this passage. Gourlay’s pacing of the finale was a little on the broad side and, towards the end, a lack of clarity in his beat at crucial moments produced less precision of ensemble than the players had managed previously.

The highlight of the evening was a riveting performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto from Gemma Rosefield, whose way with the solo part was intensely expressive yet never overburdened by solemnity. Her tone was beautifully consistent, combining directness with an intimately compact sense of scale. Occasionally she was overpowered by surrounding violins, though the touching re-emergence of the slow movement’s theme towards the end of the finale found them supporting the solo line with a hugely impressive pianissimo. Perhaps finest of all was Rosefield’s way with the introduction to that last movement; she let her sound melt into the silences that punctuate the solo part, providing a perfect example of her total command of this music.

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