PCM8: Shostakovich Waltzes and Walton’s Façade – Ian Bostridge, Felicity Palmer, Nash Ensemble/John Wilson

Shostakovich, arr. Levon Atovmyan
Four Waltzes [Michurin – Spring Waltz; The Bolt – Waltz-Scherzo; The Return of Maxim – Waltz; The Gadfly – Barrel-Organ Waltz]
Façade: An Entertainment

Ian Bostridge & Dame Felicity Palmer (reciters)

Members of the Nash Ensemble [Philippa Davies (flute), Richard Hosford (clarinet), Howard McGill (alto saxophone), Alan Thomas (trumpet), Bjørg Lewis (cello), Richard Benjafield (percussion) & Ian Brown (piano)
John Wilson [Walton]

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 8 September, 2014
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

The full Nash Ensemble. Photograph: © Hanya Chlala/ArenaPALIn the final Proms Chamber Music recital of this season a capacity audience at Cadogan Hall greeted the Nash Ensemble (in its 50th-anniversary year) together with Ian Bostridge, Felicity Palmer and John Wilson in a sparkling lunchtime concert.

By way of an entrée, four Waltzes taken from Shostakovich’s film music, miniatures arranged for flute, clarinet and piano, which received a sunny and smiling outing, from the spiralling clarinet in ‘Spring Waltz’ to the better-known ‘Barrel Organ Waltz’ from the 1955 film, The Gadfly.

While the stage was being re-set, Petroc Trelawny spoke to Wilson about Façade. Why use megaphones at the first performance? He is convinced that the volume of the instruments would have played a big part – the megaphone allowed Edith Sitwell (author of the poems) to be heard, though this isn’t the only reason. In the first public performance in June 1923 at the Aeolian Hall (there had been a private one at the Sitwells’ London home in January the previous year), she recited her verse through a megaphone projecting through a decorated screen – in the twenty-first-century the megaphone has been replaced by the microphone which, while achieving the object of allowing the narrators to be heard, detracted from the original notion that the they are a part of the ensemble rather than soloists.

Too loud in places – distracting us from Walton’s wonderful parodies of ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’ (‘Tango Pasodoble’) and the Overture to Rossini’s William Tell (‘Swiss Jodelling Song’) – Bostridge and Palmer deftly tripped through Sitwell’s tongue-twisting verse. The times when the words were not fully audible were few and less important than the theatricality of the verse that was dealt in spades. Palmer, with a stage presence honed from an operatic career spanning four decades, slipped easily from character to character: a yokel accent in ‘Country Dance’ and, predictably if particularly good, a Scottish brogue for ‘Scotch Rhapsody’.

At the first performance, the instrumentalists hated the work – the clarinettist asking the composer if a colleague had ever done him an injury. Not so today, for the required members of the Nash Ensemble, if a little upstaged by Bostridge and Palmer, delighted in Walton’s quirky writing conducted with intelligence and wit by Wilson.

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