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 Elgar, Saint-Saëns and Walton: Philippe Cassard (piano), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Yan Pascal Tortelier (conductor), Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 18.2.2011 (MC)


Elgar: In the South ‘Alassio’

Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 5 ‘Egyptian’

Walton: Symphony No. 2


Petroc Trelawny presented the concert for live broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The theme that was promoted for this fascinating concert was one of summer sun. Certainly Elgar; Saint-Saëns and Walton all composed these scores in countries with a Mediterranean coastline. Having their own characteristic sound world each of the three were at one time leading and influential composers of their generation. Later in their long careers they were accused of being stuck in the past, failing to compete with the growing enthusiasm for progressive European music. Thankfully with the passing of a time we are now be able to reassess the music for its innate quality rather than for the dynamic of the era in which it was written.


It was good to see Yan Pascal Tortelier, a former chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic from 1992-2003, back with the orchestra in his role as conductor laureate. The opening score In the SouthAlassio’ was written during Elgar’s stay in Italy. At around twenty-two minutes to perform the substantial concert overture, which is more of a tone-poem, is only five minutes or so shorter than Walton’s Second Symphony. I was worried by Tortelier’s disappointing start to the performance where everything felt a touch uncoordinated. Initially the brass frowned rather than glowed and the dull strings failed to capture the sense of Italian sunshine. Thankfully the situation drastically improved. Magical was the idyllic ‘shepherd’ section with the beautiful solo viola, over muted strings and harp. Tortelier impressively increased the weight and tension culminating with a scorching Coda to bring this predominantly sun drenched journey to a satisfying conclusion.


I was pleased to have the opportunity of hearing the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5Egyptian', a product of the composer’s stay in Egypt. Like the others in the set of five piano concertos the ‘Egyptian’ is overshadowed by the enduring popularity of his No.2 in G minor. Eschewing a score, Philippe Cassard wallowed in the exotic and sultry atmosphere of the concerto playing with vivacity and finesse giving a real sureness to the brilliant passagework.


Walton’s Symphony No. 2 was written at the composer’s home on the island of Ischia in the bay of Naples. Requiring a large orchestra the three movement score was criticised for its relative conservatism although it does contain a 12-tone row. In the opening movement it felt like Walton was purging anger out of his system. Tortelier and the BBC Phil revelled in the sharp and almost frenzied writing punctuated by substantial helpings of brass. Glistening nocturnal music of tense anticipation the central movement was notable for the superb solo woodwind, beautifully tamed horns and glowing trumpet contributions. The theme for full orchestra in the Finale was given as a furious statement. A relative but short lived calm pervaded the writing before a tempestuous burst of percussion and brass. There was no denying that Tortelier was rejoicing in Walton’s romantic excesses. Enraged, loud and dramatic the lengthy Coda notable for the brass fanfare was typical Walton.

At the end, the fervent applause demonstrated how much the audience had relished such a fortifying evening of music from the BBC Phil under Yan Pascal Tortelier.


Michael Cookson


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