Portsmouth Point Overture
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
A London Symphony (Symphony No.2)
Natalie Clein (cello)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 7 April, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
It could be said that this concert gathered conservative English music from the first half of the 20th-century. There is no sign of the modernist tendencies of Frank Bridge or the youthful prodigious talent of Benjamin Britten. However, Elgar eclipsed the conservative English school of Stanford and Parry, Walton was viewed by the establishment, and Vaughan Williams wrote, as early as 1910, one of the most radical works in all British music, the wonderful Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis.
So rather than worry about placing labels on people, let’s just listen to the music and absorb what glories lie within. And in this concert there were many such wonders to behold, both in the music and the interpretations, beginning with a vibrant account of Walton’s Portsmouth Point Overture.
The overture, maybe reflecting Walton’s hedonistic lifestyle, was written in 1925, a year before Sibelius completed his last symphony. There was something very Sibelian in the first movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto as perceived by Natalie Clein. The music had a haunted tone aided by Slatkin’s close attention to orchestral detail and dynamics. The scherzo went like a whirlwind and the slow movement was kept moving, eschewing sentimentality. The epilogue that rounds off the work proved to be the emotional core in this performance, which demonstrated an abundance of pure musical content without recourse to the often observed Edwardian sadness. This was a performance to cherish for its freshness of approach.
All three composers represented in this concert became a ‘Grand Old Man of English Music’. Elgar was heard thus, here, and the works by Walton and Vaughan Williams came from early in their careers. Vaughan Williams’s A London Symphony, written in 1913 and twice revised, is an utterly original concept, and a big-boned, ambitious work. It received a marvellous performance by Slatkin and the responsive Royal Philharmonic. The quiet opening was breathtaking in setting a dawn scene and the many and varied musical intentions were wonderfully observed. Slatkin showed himself in the company of Wood, Barbirolli and Boult. No praise could be higher.