Seen and Heard Concert Review
Britten, Vaughan Williams and Honegger:
Soloists / London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir / New
London Children’s Choir / Ronald Corp and Vladimir
Jurowski (conductors). Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Ronald Corp (conductor)
London Philharmonic Choir
Vladimir Jurowski (conductor)
This was the thinking person’s Christmas concert – and how nice it is to get at least one a year to counteract all the predictable seasonal fare that is trotted out time after time.
Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols was the best known work on the programme, and Ronald Corp led a generally well mannered performance by the New London Children’s Choir. If they had momentary problems in sustaining some long-held lines, they attacked the more upbeat aspects of the work with delectation – to the extent of sounding a touch pushed towards the end of Wolcum Yole! The lower voices were on the whole stronger of presence than the upper parts, yet all sang with a careful ear for their place within the whole and often found much fun in the interplay of parts. Adam lay i-bounden was full of energy in its cross-rhythms, almost too much so in fact as the text verged on becoming unintelligible. Rachel Masters, LPO’s principal harpist, provided a finely graded account of the crystalline solo interlude, which articulated much in the way of a wintery atmosphere.
The only non-seasonal item on the programme was Britten’s youthful double concerto, a work noticeably modelled on Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante. Cast within three distinct sections of a unified form the concerto displayed elements of interest, without being wholly within the established Britten idiom. He was, after all, still a student at the Royal College of Music when the work was written. Much of the first two sections had the feeling of a rural rhapsody about them. The soloists, both LPO principals, took brief opportunities to play individual lines and showcase their separate talents. More often than not though Britten requires both to play in unison, the extent of which more than anything else shows his immaturity as a composer. The orchestration however showed greater confidence on the part of Britten, with the brass and timpani in particular proving particularly imposing. The finale had its own ferocious character, thus making it very distinct from the rest of the work. Jurowski sought to emphasise the dynamic relationships between the various elements, often drawing formidable attack from his forces, to thrilling effect.
Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia has established itself over the years within the repertoire of amateur choral societies. It is more rarely performed, however, by professional forces. Mixing wordless singing with text and a prominent part for solo baritone, securely taken by Anthony Michaels-Moore, the work shows Vaughan-Williams’ ability to integrate carol tunes into his overall design. Including the now familiar Sussex carol, which Jurowski particularly relished in performance, and a Somerset carol, Vaughan-Williams brought some lesser-known tunes to light. The performance was rich in atmosphere, heightened by careful control of the orchestral and choral forces.
Honegger’s Christmas Cantata is a real rarity by any standards. It saw the massed forces of the evening – children’s and adult choirs, baritone soloist and orchestra – take to the stage for the culmination of proceedings. If the work’s musical character is on the whole somewhat subdued – very much in line with Honegger’s overall aesthetic – the message of the work’s multi-lingual text is one of hope and peace. Dedication was brought to the performance, with fine orchestral and choral contributions, but I cannot help feeling that the work will forever be a curiosity rather than a truly popular part of the repertoire. Even so, the opportunity to hear such works is welcome and adds to the overall variety of one’s concert-going life.
Merry Christmas, one and all!