The Tempest – Prelude
Fanfare in Sea
Cello Concerto, Op.40
Peter Grimes – Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia
Philip Higham (cello)
Fulham Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Bob Briggs
Reviewed: 28 November, 2009
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
What a lovely piece of programming this concert was, though the Overture to Thomas Adès’s opera is perhaps too full of the Prelude Sibelius wrote for his Tempest incidental music to be wholly successful. The claim in the programme that Adès has “taken the place in the musical landscape once occupied by Benjamin Britten” was put to rest by the inclusion of Britten’s masterly ‘Sea Interludes’, which show just how much can be done with little material when used by a master, whereas Adès’s piece seemed a lesson in filling each and every page of manuscript paper. Colin Matthews’s Fanfare in Sea is one of those occasional pieces he is so adept at throwing off, and it was fun. Despite the length of the Cello Concerto, it is a masterly piece and Philip Higham proved himself to be a very persuasive advocate for the work. But all was not right in this performance, nor with the subsequent works, but most of the problems were beyond the control of the musicians.
St John’s is a very reverberant room and any fast counterpoint can easily become lost in the huge space of the church. In the Finzi, Marc Dooley had decided to emphasise the dramatic aspects of the work wherever possible, so there were some very strange occurances. In the first movement, after a strong opening tutti, the soloist was too often covered by the band. The slow movement fared better, but there was still too much string tone.
The reverberant acoustic was the first problem of the night, the second was the impossibility of the musicians ever managing to achieve a pianissimo. Thus the opening of The Sea was far too loud and lacking in subtlety; likewise Britten’s ‘Dawn Interlude’, and in the latter set Dooley chose fast tempos, no problem there, but in the second, ‘Sunday Morning’, the climax, after the soaring tune in the middle, sounded confused and muddled because of the acoustic. The ‘Storm’ in both pieces went very well, the loud and dynamic music appearing fresh and clear!
Dooley had obviously worked hard on his interpretations but he, and his players, were somewhat defeated by the acoustic.