Philharmonia Orchestra – British Music Night

Elgar
In the South (Alassio) – Concert Overture, Op.50
Hellawell
Cors de chasse [Philharmonia Orchestra and Brighton Festival co-commission: London premiere]
Walton
Violin Concerto in B minor
Elgar
Cockaigne (In London Town) – Concert Overture, Op.40

Håkan Hardenburger (trumpet) & Jonas Bylund (trombone)

Matthew Trusler (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 10 October, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Programmes like this are few and far between in the Philharmonia Orchestra’s London subscription concerts, and this one heralded a four-concert flag-flying trip to Mexico (13-16 October) – Elgar’s Cockaigne, Cello Concerto (Natalie Clein) and Enigma Variations, Walton’s Violin Concerto (with, as here, Matthew Trusler) and Holst’s The Planets, all conducted by Martyn Brabbins, and with Peter Maxwell Davies conducting his Mavis in Las Vegas and Antarctic Symphony.

This Queen Elizabeth Hall concert was somewhat extravagant – three soloists, the Philharmonia at full strength, and four works that really need to be worked at. In the sense that the Philharmonia brought to each piece seasoned professionalism, innate musicianship and deft ensemble, all was well; but a little more rehearsal time seemed needed in order to get more under the skin of the music and to clarify some passages that were here a little tentative or not entirely lucid.

The most wholly successful performance was of Piers Hellawell’s Cors de chasse. Hellawell (born 1956) has composed a 15-minute ‘double concerto’ for trumpet and trombone that is more a ‘sinfonia concertante’. The large orchestra is kept busy and the listener is aware of recurring motifs and significant interaction between the soloists and the orchestra, not least with the brass section. If the title suggests acres of rolling countryside, then ‘hunting horns’ is more a snazzy appellation; the work is sinuous, jazzy and vibrant, and the lyrically intense episodes tend to remind of Stan Kenton (this listener, anyway!). Hellawell seems not without humour or wit; Cors de chasse has an agreeable whimsy to it, too, and his extensive use of percussion (including Wineglass and Swannee Whistle) always seems integrated to the overall plot. This performance (the fourth since the Brighton Festival premiere in 2004) found Håkan Hardenburger and Jonas Bylund in tiptop form and the Philharmonia wholly alive to the demonstration and decoration that Cors de chasse memorably affords.

To open the second half of the concert, Matthew Trusler gave a technically assured account of Walton’s written-for-Heifetz Violin Concerto. That Trusler used the score seemed neither here or there; he has the work’s measure and impressed in the long lyrical lines and in the mercurial fast passages. Trusler’s pure tones and somewhat clinical approach brought their own rewards, but in such a glowing and warm score, he was rather too objective, even cool, and the lack of fantasy meant that slower passages (the last few moments of the first movement and parts of the finale) meandered; and there didn’t seem too much interaction between soloist and orchestra. Nevertheless Trusler, unforced and the more eloquent for being so, comes without display and pretence, and his technical armoury seems ‘complete’; a more fantastical response to this luxuriant concerto could be a significant breakthrough.

Elgar framed the concert. Martyn Brabbins, one of the most versatile conductors around, animated in body language and lucid in technique, knows how to focus on essentials without missing the spirit of the score. Thus In the South was both impulsive and expansive and not without half-lights although more textural variegation was needed and, for all Vicci Wardman’s sensitivity in her viola solo, the ‘Canto popolare’ section rather lacked for magic. It was only towards the end, when Brabbins slowly awakened the music back to life that some real measure of ‘interpretation’ was apparent. From Italy to London for Cockaigne, a (too) brisk account that also yielded some eloquent and sympathetic shaping of the work’s ‘private’ moments. The ‘public’ sections, the marching bands, were rather matter of fact, trumpets and trombones somewhat dominant, but a lively ending ensued, reasonably enough without the ad lib organ.

An impromptu element sometimes added an exciting edge to this concert; this was certainly ‘live’ and dedicated music-making – which was captured by BBC Radio 3 for broadcast this Friday (the 13th!) at 7.30 p.m. and worth catching for Cors de chasse and for a fine spirit of adventure.

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