Orion Symphony Orchestra – Remembrance and Revival

Vaughan Williams
The Wasps – Overture
Howell
Piano Concerto in D minor
Holbrooke
Variations on ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’
Vaughan Williams
Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’
Elkington
Out of the Mist
Elgar
In the South (Alassio) – Concert Overture, Op.50

Valentina Seferinova (piano)

Orion Symphony Orchestra
Toby Purser


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 11 November, 2010
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Toby PurserOn Armistice Day the Orion Symphony Orchestra (music students and graduates) and its conductor Toby Purser gave on paper an intriguing concert-mix of highways and byways of British music. All in a good cause, too, The St Lazarus Charitable Trust.

The Overture from Ralph Vaughan Williams’s incidental music for a production of Aristophanes’s The Wasps opened the evening; a rather pedestrian and blunted account, lacking buzz (if you will), maybe the chameleon acoustic of Cadogan Hall responsible for the closed-in effect (it opened-out later), yet trumpets and percussion were too loud, intrusive upon a reduced-strings band. What was lacking was a seasoning of the notes, a lived-in quality, and a collective heart in the wonderful ‘big tune’. Of course, however talented any one player, forming an orchestra is another matter, and whatever the flair and the commitment of the players, such collective unfamiliarity was conspicuous in Elgar’s concert overture (which needed more rehearsal), rather sluggardly at the beginning yet pushed-through come the close, initial carefulness exposing accidents and questionable ensemble in the first few minutes and the performance never quite recovered despite some welcome impetus and glorious vision later and Meghan Cassidy’s viola solo (which took a while to find full tone and poise).

Of the three rarer works, two proved disappointing. The Piano Concerto (1923) of Dorothy Howell (1898-1982), particularly after the revival of her earlier-composed Lamia at this year’s Proms, came across as sadly lacking in character and invention, its 20-minute three-section/one-movement design seeming rather perfunctory and not even strong enough to suggest references, save diluted Chopin and very-early Scriabin. God knows why I thought of Christian Sinding, but I did. The composer herself had given the first and subsequent performances (respectively conducted by Dan Godfrey and Adrian Boult) and Valentina Seferinova did well to learn the work and play it with belief. Curiosity is now satisfied. Similarly with the Variations by Joseph Holbrooke (1878-1958), music undated as far the programme-note was concerned. Raucous, witty, bucolic, drunken – a circus atmosphere created – Holbrooke’s whimsy and imagination sustained the first few minutes, but these (too unvaried) commentaries (and the quotations from such as ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘Rule Britannia’) play for thirteen and had palled long before the clock had ticked them by.

Out of the Mist (1921) by Lilian Elkington (1901-1969) was much more interesting, music inspired by the Great War and Unknown Warrior and eloquent and deeply-felt in its funeral processional if owing much to Elgar and suggesting the more-sombre aspects of “The Apostles” and “The Kingdom”. It would be good to hear more of the elusive Elkington’s output.

From these recitals, leaving the biggest impression was Dives and Lazarus (1939), regional Variants on this beautiful folksong, Vaughan Williams’s collation investing light and shade, textural interest, much heart and even beguiling throwaway annotations, the passage for four violins and cello particularly resonant to the soul, the performance as a whole beautifully played (by strings and two harps) and lovingly shaped.

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