Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Handley Tasmin Little [The Perfect Fool … A Pastoral Symphony]

The Perfect Fool – Ballet Music
Violin Concerto
Vaughan Williams
A Pastoral Symphony (Symphony No.3)

Tasmin Little (violin)

Lisa Milne (soprano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 19 February, 2008
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Tasmin Little. Photograph: BBCOver the preceding weekend Tasmin Little had given two accounts of Elgar’s Violin Concerto in Berlin with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and Leonard Slatkin; then she travelled to London to play Delius’s Violin Concerto with another champion of British music, Vernon Handley. In fact, it was hearing Elgar’s example (1910) that inspired Frederick Delius to compose his own Violin Concerto (1916) first heard in 1919 played by Albert Sammons with Adrian Boult conducting. Unlike Elgar’s, Delius’s piece is not essayed by too many violinists and few if any play it from memory as if a repertoire work – interesting to read that Little has played it in Leipzig with Kurt Masur conducting – and with such sweetness and warmth. In three linked movements, well-judged tempo and structural awareness are paramount to presenting something defined rather than rhapsodic. A real sense of organisation informed this performance, the orchestra beginning in bracing fashion, Delius’s marking of “With moderate tempo” here given with direction and pulse. When the middle movement arrives, Delius merely marks it “Slower” (rather than ‘slow’), indicating that the performers need to think ahead and also for the dance-like measures that indicate the ‘finale’ and enliven the work before the introspective coda. In this performance, everything belonged and was inevitable.

Holst’s one-act comic opera, “The Perfect Fool”, is a real rarity (although Handley revived it for BBC broadcast a few years ago), Holst setting himself a tough task of following the brilliant Ballet Music that begins the work. This is a score that needs a bigger hall than Cadogan and more strings than the Royal Philharmonic mustered, and if the trombones’ summonses were not the last word in accuracy the performance as a whole had intoxicating rhythmic elan and a magical mysticism (lovely solos from Andrew Williams, viola, and Ian Mullin, flute) that was a timely reminder of music that should grace concerts more often.

Vernon HandleySo too Vaughan Williams’s A Pastoral Symphony, a deeply poignant “requiem” for those lost in World War I. The fields are French not English, the emotions expressed are from the soul, a threnody of consciousness expressed in much moderate and slow music that is aflame with humanity. Not one to signpost, wallow or sniff the flowers, Handley underlined that this is a ‘real’ symphony without watering-down the music’s eloquence. The outer sections of the finale – framing the symphony’s most devastatingly heartfelt music – feature a soprano vocalising; here Lisa Milne, singing from behind and above the platform was a little too immediate and operatic. Nevertheless, the Royal Philharmonic played with sensitivity and passion, alive to Handley’s trusty baton, in a performance that was flowing, intense and ebbing, and with more fine solo work – fluid and extemporised (as this music needs to seem) – once more from Williams and Mullin and from guest leader Natalia Lomeiko and trumpeter Mike Allen whose second-movement ‘last post’ solo was especially plaintive and with Handley’s trademark antiphonal violins coming into their own.

To complete the pleasure, a virtually full Cadogan Hall audience listened in rapt attention with few coughs, no mobiles ringing or misplaced applause. Handley returns to the RPO and Cadogan Hall on 13 May for Elgar, Walton and Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony. A must-attend concert!

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