TONS OF TODS TERRIFIC TUNES: Colin Carr (cello)/ Philharmonia Orchestra/Handley Royal Festival Hall 15 February 2000:
Conductor Vernon Handleys South Bank concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra traversed many of his favourite British composers, Elgar, Bantock, Bax and Britten. The first half, devoted to Elgar, opened with the expansive early concert overture Froissart, and was followed by the Cello Concerto; very much Elgar early and late. The Festival Hall is an unforgiving acoustic and certainly there was no hiding place for some orchestral roughness in Froissart, the players seeming to take some time to warm up. Never-the-less Handley was already in his element, his approach expansive, the phrasing elastic and generous.
This had been billed as the South Bank debut of Kathryn Price who recently gave the world premiere of George Lloyds Cello Concerto in Albany, New York. While we were wondering why she was not down to repeat that success in London we learned that, owing to indisposition, at short notice she was being replaced by Colin Carr. The Elgar concerto is now so over-exposed that anyone short of another du Pré risks being received with a yawn, but in the event Carrs inward view of this autumnal music was refreshing in its lack of exaggerated gesture, and made more intense by its subdued gravity.
The concert was a charity event in aid of sailors charities (the King George Fund for Sailors and the Wave Heritage Trust), and sea music by Bantock, Britten and Bax gave the second half a marine complexion suitably underlining the occasion. It also gave Handley favourite musical canvases with which to draw the best from his players.
It was splendid to have Bantock in the programme, always an event in the hands of Handley (the architect of the eye-opening Hyperion CD series of Bantocks orchestral music). Good, too, to hear Bantocks string figurations evoking the restless ocean articulated properly by the violins sitting left and right. However, in a concert that ended as early as 9.15 it seemed perverse to programme just Kishmuls Galley, the second of the Heroic Ballads which opened the second half. So short a work, perhaps conceived for one side of a 78rpm record, it seemed over almost before it had begun.
The four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Brittens opera Peter Grimes were given tremendous impact, a wonderfully vivid performance, while Arnold Baxs tone poem Tintagel, which ended the programme, found Handley revelling in the colourful romantic, impressionistic, orchestral textures of a composer whose music has been a lifelong pilgrimage for him. A perfect, slightly broad tempo and scrupulous attention to balance ensured that in Handleys experienced hands, and aided by the acoustic, all manner of delightful detail was audible. All these works needed the horns to really crown the ensemble at climactic moments, but sitting in the front of the terrace I must say I could have wished for a little more from them on several occasions.
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