Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

Overture – The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op.26
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26
Vaughan Williams
A Sea Symphony (Symphony No.1)

Leila Josefowicz (violin)

Janice Watson (soprano)
Dwayne Croft (baritone)

Chester Festival Chorus
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Gerard Schwarz

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 23 July, 2005
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

A sea-centred Prom – one that brought the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Gerard Schwarz in a programme such as might have hailed from the Sargent era. The Hebrides was sprucely played and, if a little terse in overall expression, relaxed tellingly during the melting clarinet rendition of the second theme in its reprise.

Bruch’s ubiquitous First Violin Concerto (how refreshing to have heard one of the other two concertos or, indeed, the Scottish Fantasy – which would have followed on nicely in context) was treated to a similarly taut, no-nonsense reading from Leila Josefowicz: a touch impersonal in the opening movement, andwith the surging transition into the Adagio failing to catch the breath as it can, but the latter shaped affectionately and without affectation (Schwarz an undemonstrative but attentive accompanist in the Ormandy mould), and the gypsy inflections of the finale brought out to characterful effect.

Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony has fared well at the Proms over the last decade, not least at the hands of American conductors. Schwarz certainly had the measure of the work’s boundless idealism and its powerful if at times sprawling momentum: the first movement was launched as an irresistible peroration, and if tension dropped intermittently in the rhetorical sequence at it centre, this was no fault of Janice Watson, who had the brazen fearlessness right for this music. Dwayne Croft’s mellow baritone was appropriate for conveying Walt Whitman’s poetic flights of fancy, though he seemed a shade harried by Schwarz’s determination to press ahead in the nocturnal second movement – which lacked ruminative eloquence as a result. The scherzo was breezily dispatched, though with no lack of care over contrapuntal detail – the choirs on fine form throughout the performance – and with due swagger in the trio theme, where the composer seems to pay tribute to his erstwhile teacher Parry.

Although Schwarz’s tenure with the RLPO has not been an entirely successful one, there seems little doubt that he has secured a high standard of playing from the orchestra, its tonal richness and clarity here was impressive. He steered a flexible and convincing course through the symphony’s finale – knitting together its disparate-seeming episodes with skill, and judging dynamics unerringly in its heartfelt central and mystical closing pages (the latter a fecund source of inspiration for Holst). The soloists made the most of their opportunities in the operatic exchanges in-between, while the sense of music reaching beyond itself – in line with the sentiments of the text – was always apparent.

Remote from us as Vaughan Williams’s visionary humanism may seem, its onward striving toward an unformed but necessary future has lost none of its capacity to enlighten, nor its ability to inspire.

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