The Anvil 25th-Birthday Gala – Martyn Brabbins conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra – Breathing Space, Here and There, Enigma Variations – Sheku Kanneh-Mason plays Elgar’s Cello Concerto

Samantha Fernando
Breathing Space [Anvil Arts & Philharmonia Orchestra commission: world premiere]
Elgar
Cello Concerto in E-minor, Op.85
Martyn Brabbins
Here and There [world premiere of new version]
Elgar
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins


Reviewed by: David Truslove

Reviewed: 3 May, 2019
Venue: The Anvil, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England

Philharmonia Orchestra & Martyn Brabbins at The AnvilPhotograph: Belinda LawleySamantha Fernando’s Breathing Space draws inspiration from the meditative process known as Mindfulness and “attempts to evoke the challenge and the reward of finding a little space, mentally and physically within the demands of the everyday.” If the title conjures notions of stillness, the bubbling energy soon made clear this is more about challenge than reward, realised in skittering woodwinds and agitated percussion. A brief passage of Ivesian calm with muted trumpet offered some respite in what is otherwise a colourful score that under Martyn Brabbins’s scrupulous direction pulsed with a nervous undercurrent.

The other new opus was the conductor’s own Here and There, a “brief upbeat piece based on the interval of a 4th.” Originally conceived over thirty years ago for brass band yet only premiered in 2017, it now has an orchestral version (without strings). Here and There’s vibrant energy proved entirely apposite for the occasion – perhaps better at the start though.

Following Brabbins’s festive romp, Elgar’s character portraits were vibrantly and sensitively underlined in a spacious but flowing account (minus the ad lib organ part at the close). Solos were affectingly expressive, and vividly brought to life the composer’s “friends pictured within”; and a broadly-conceived ‘Nimrod’ was deeply involving and grew in intensity so that its place as the work’s emotional bedrock was never in doubt; a pity there was too long a pause following it, which drew applause. Nonetheless this was an Enigma of shared warmth and commitment.

Philharmonia Orchestra & Martyn Brabbins at The Anvil, with Sheku Kanneh-MasonPhotograph: Belinda LawleyEarlier, the Philharmonia, Brabbins and Sheku Kanneh-Mason were meaningful collaborators in Elgar’s Cello Concerto, an account of considered rumination and unbuttoned vitality, such contrasts seamlessly integrated. Tenderness and gentle reminiscing in the opening movement gave wayto impish but finely-controlled humour in the second (with wonderfully supportive woodwinds), while the melting Adagio was a model of well-projected pianissimo, the music’s dreaminess verging close to unconsciousness. Here, more than anywhere, Kanneh-Mason played with a suppleness and sweetness of tone that makes you hold your breath – his fabulous technique, musicianship and gift for communication serving the music with abundant ease. The Finale was a vivid affair, Brabbins superbly shaping its exhilaration and nostalgia. As an encore, Kanneh-Mason offered a glowing rendition of Evening of Roses by Yosef Hadar.

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