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THE COTSWOLD COLLECTION, ENGLISH MUSICAL FESTIVAL.
“The composers’ county” is how Herbert Howells described Gloucestershire, and it is certainly true that the whole area between the Welsh border and the Cotswold Hills has nurtured more composers than any other part of this country. Elgar, Parry, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Finzi and Howells are among those closely connected with this landscape, so it was fitting that the English Music Festival should focus on the Cotswolds in its first autumn event.
Though the opening concert of The Cotswold Connection featured the belated world premiere of Howells’s early Sonata in B minor for violin and piano, special attention was placed on Holst. Hence two concerts at Wyck Rissington, in whose 13th-century church Holst had his first professional appointment as organist in 1892.
Entitled By Cotswold, Severn and Wye, a sequence of organ music celebrating this fact was devised and played by Duncan Honeybourne. No easy task, given the modest scope of the “rustic” organ, but Honeybourne chose his programme resourcefully and handled the little instrument with sensitivity, finding expressive qualities others might have missed.
Given that the recital’s raison d’être was Holst, Honeybourne skirted around the problem of Holst having composed no organ music by adapting a piano transcription of the Brook Green Suite. The unpretentious music sounded at home here, by turns bubbly and bracing. Honeybourne also resorted to arranging a Finzi piece (his quietly radiant Prelude for String Orchestra) but included beautifully wrought original miniatures by John Ireland, Parry and Vaughan Williams – whose Prelude on Rhosymedre was a highlight. Though Dublin-born, Stanford earned a place on the programme as the teacher of Holst and Howells. Two of Howells’s Psalm Preludes plus his Rhapsody No. 3 – written during a Zeppelin raid on York – brought turbulent passions to an otherwise placid programme. Saddled with a few too many hymn-tune preludes by lesser figures, the recital could have been strengthened by the inclusion of Elgar’s Vesper Voluntaries, early pieces that already bear his unmistakable fingerprint.
The place of the Cotswolds as cradle of the English musical renaissance was also reflected in a concert by Oxford Liedertafel, which focused on Vaughan Williams and Tallis but took account of their contemporaries. Little is known about Tallis’s early life and he probably never set foot in the Cotswolds, but as an inspiration to Vaughan Williams – whose celebrated Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis was premiered in Gloucester Cathedral in 1910 – he deserved his honorary place on the programme.
One of the earliest critics writing about Vaughan Williams’s music, John Alexander Fuller Maitland, perceptively observed that with his style “one is never quite sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new”. That is how it felt here as the four singers of Oxford Liedertafel (two countertenors, a tenor and bass) moved seamlessly between Vaughan Williams’s Shakespeare-inspired Take, O Take Those Lips Away, Tallis and Anon, although this and other of the Vaughan Williams pieces were solo works in adaptations that stressed the antique spirit.
The quartet, which takes its “Song Table” name from the 19th-century German tradition of male voice singing groups, shaped beautifully sustained lines in Tallis’s famous miniature anthem, If Ye Love Me, before delivering several folk-inspired pieces including the choral version of Vaughan Williams’s first popular success, Linden Lea. Holst, Dowland and Campion also made appearances here in a programme that evoked the soul of a timeless landscape.
TWO ENGAGING VAUGHAN WILLIAMS PREMIERES WERE THE HIGHLIGHT OF THIS YEAR'S ENGLISH MUSIC FESTIVAL.
Fifty-five years after his death, Ralph Vaughan Williams is still giving world premieres – or at least receiving them. Such is the number of early works he either abandoned, withdrew or neglected to promote that perspectives on the composer are changing all the time. But it is still remarkable that this year’s English Music Festival managed to include two Vaughan Williams first performances in its opening concert alone.
Based at Dorchester Abbey in Oxfordshire, this seventh annual EMF featured several other novelties, including the premiere of the full, original version of Henry Walford Davies’s Second Symphony and the first British performance of John Gardner’s Stabat Mater.
Lest it be too unfairly accused of hankering after a lost Arcadia, the EMF also does its bit to promote and commission new composers ... But there is no avoiding the fact that the festival attracts some of music’s “swivel-eyed loons”, underlined by hearty audience participation in Parry’s Jerusalem on the first night – something that sat oddly next to the evening’s serious work from the BBC Concert Orchestra under Martin Yates.
Indeed, their premiere performance of Vaughan Williams’s The Solent was memorable. A “symphonic impression” along the lines of In the Fen Country and also dating from the early 1900s, it contains a thematic germ that was to haunt the composer for the whole of his life, from the early Sea Symphony to the Ninth Symphony and beyond. Heard at the outset of The Solent on a solo clarinet, it sets the tone for this delicately scored, melancholy tone poem.
Vaughan Williams’s slightly earlier Serenade in A minor was, similarly, worth exhuming. Compared with the recently premiered Cambridge Mass, also from 1898, it is a more assured and individual work. Scored for small orchestra, it consists of five quite substantial movements, including a spirited folk-dance Scherzo and a beautiful Romance just before the finale.
Announced for a premiere in 1911 by the London Symphony Orchestra under Arthur Nikisch, no less, Walford Davies’s Symphony No. 2 in G was dropped, only to reappear later that year in a drastically cut version and then falling silent until now. Yates’s restoration of the original finally gives us a chance to evaluate this opulent score, and it is easy to hear how damaging the cuts must have been.
Once past some slightly clumsy, sub-Brahmsian orchestration at the start, this symphony proves full of striking, well-developed themes. A recording must surely be in prospect.
ENGLISH MUSIC FESTIVAL – REVIEW, 02 JUNE 2013
According to convention, since Purcell the UK had no great composer until Britten, unless we count Elgar, which we probably should. One organisation was founded expressly to challenge this prejudice. Now in its seventh year, the English Music festival has exhumed works by Sullivan, Ireland, Moeran, Finzi and a litany of other less familiar names now edging back into the mainstream.
In the course of attending this festival, subtitled The Spirit of England and not automatically my natural habitat, I have heard radiant choral works – by Holst, Dyson, John Gardner and others – and tedious string suites (no need for names) as well as lively ones too. The organisers have now set up a publishing and recording arm, and judging by the near-capacity audience at Dorchester Abbey have found a following hungry for this broadly pastoral repertoire.
The long list of past "premieres" mostly consists of works written up to a century ago and forgotten. But on bank holiday Monday, the festival closed with eight new works and commissions, all worth hearing. The composer Ben Palmer, doubling as conductor of the versatile Orchestra of St Paul's, mustered robust originality in his Sinfonietta. Christopher Wright's Legend conjured an intriguing, dark atmosphere which befitted its depiction of a barren East Anglian landscape.
The biggest undertaking was David Owen Norris's sprawling, ear-catching Symphony. Best known as a pianist but also a man of boggling versatility, Norris clearly had fun. A soulful slow movement nodded towards Elgar or Mahler, while swooping, wah-wah brass suggested, as Norris himself put it, a "slightly blurred" evening at Ronnie Scott's. He also names those great melodists Joni Mitchell, the Beach Boys and Orlando Gibbons as influences. The final Ground was built on a repeating bass figure or passacaglia, a timely reminder of Purcell who used the same device in Dido's Lament.
If some pieces passed by agreeably, sounding as if they could have been written any time in the past 50 years, the best – David Matthews's haunting White Nights, a revision of a violin concerto – left an indelible mark. Rupert Marshall-Luck tackled the sinewy solo part with fluency. Matthews (b1943) uses traditional methods yet creates music that is dazzlingly new. After a week celebrating The Rite of Spring, in which Stravinsky plundered ancient archetypes and shaped them into radical novelty, these are questions to think about.
ENGLISH MUSIC TRIUMPHANT IN PREMIERE AND REVIVAL AT DORCHESTER ON THAMES.
Parry, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Walford Davies: BBC Concert Orchestra / Martin Yates (conductor), Dorchester Abbey, 24 May 2013.
The English Music Festival, now in its seventh year, once again takes its mission seriously – passionately even. The first day, Friday 24 May 2013 – bore witness to this. The venue was once again Dorchester on Thames, some ten miles south of Oxford. If the weather was not lovely the musical nourishment involved no hardship at all. EMF is an extraordinary phenomenon and all down to Em Marshall-Luck who was much in evidence complete with her beloved Irish wolf-hound.
This year’s event began for me with attendance at part of the BBC Concert Orchestra rehearsals at the Abbey. This was invaluable in a programme of which three works were completely unfamiliar – indeed were receiving their premieres. This was enhanced by attendance at Lewis Foreman’s pre-concert talk given at the Gilbert Scott-designed Village Hall. Mr Foreman was his usual illuminating and affable self. The fact that he has not received an OBE for his unstinting dedication since the 1960s to the cause and jewelled detail of British music remains astonishing. His talk was a classic, weaving in broad and deep perspectives and making connections and context both familiar and largely novel. It was not just a matter of conveying specific information but also advocacy through not uncritical passion. The talk was enriched with rare audio extracts from works by Holst, Walford Davies and RVW.
The concert itself in the Abbey was hearteningly well attended as was last year’s event at which I was also present – my first EMF. We started with Parry’s Jerusalem in which audience participation was enlisted. This concert started in that way while last year’s had the audience singing later in the evening. Apologies to anyone within hearing distance of me.
It is Britten’s centenary this year so the programme would have been incomplete without representation from Aldeburgh. We had a fairly rare bird in the shape of the Canadian Carnival or Kermesse Canadienne. This folksong threaded work is not well known. You might say that Canadian Carnival is to Britten what El Salon Mexico is to Copland – just a different border. The Britten is typically inventive and starts with an offstage trumpet over a cymbal shimmer (in an effect similar to John Ireland’s very much earlier Forgotten Rite) and ends likewise. That trumpet line recalls the sound of the horn in Serenade. It’s a fun work with a hoe-down, some quicksilver stuff in a feathery solo violin role and soloistic textures from first violins. There’s a speckle of razor-sharp fanfares. Both composers might have rejected any parallel but there’s even a touch of Arnold’s Tam. Martin Yates and the BBCCO gave us an outing that was not helter-skelter but was certainly virtuosic.
I had expected RVW’s Solent, heard here for the first time, to be a blustery dramatic sea picture perhaps reminiscent of Parry’s spume-spattered voyages around that stretch of water. It opens with a long-breathed and slinky solo clarinet followed by a Tallis-style shimmer of strings. It’s a wonderful work of about ten minutes’ duration and has a very peaceful mien. We were treated to some superbly balanced quiet playing and a sweet solo violin pre-echoes a similar moment in Serenade to Music. The whole impression is unnervingly Delian with the feeling of slow-burn contemplative sunrise and also a touch also of Smetana’s Vltava. On occasion the music also had me thinking of A London Symphony – dawn over the Thames – and even, for one fleeting moment, of La Mer. Both were works lying in the future when The Solent was written. A lovely discovery, then.
More RVW in the shape of Serenade in A minor. Was it a good idea to have two pieces of rare RVW back to back? I suspect things would have gone with even more of a swing if The Solent and the Holst had been switched. In any event, the five movement RVW piece encompasses a wide variety of moods. We start with a reverential Respighian rocking motion rising to eruptive passion. We encounter hunting horns and greenswards in the bluff manner of a Stanfordian jig and of Hugh the Drover. Not for the first or last time do we hear echoes of Dvorak who was very popular indeed – as ubiquitous as Mendelssohn in Victorian England. There are bubbling Mozartean horns and even a Tchaikovskian pizzicato as well as a touch of upper-crust light music a la Salut d’Amour. There are some delicious hesitations in what rings true as an evocation of birdsong. The drum and avian woodwind at the end of the penultimate movement might well have inspired Patrick Hadley – it recalls The Trees So High. Only the fifth and last movement disappointed but only at first – too rum-ti-tum by half. Redemption came with what feels like an evocation of leafy granges. That penultimate movement – a glowing dawn with plenty of pastoral atmosphere – is indelibly memorable.
Holst was RVW’s walking companion and music at the saunter rather than the gallop was in the ascendant in the first half of the concert. Holst’s A Winter Idyll has been recorded commercially but is not a frequent visitor to the concert hall. It starts explosively but soon moves into wintry pastoral climes. Tchaikovskian oft-times. In fact it would pair well as an overture with Tchaikovsky’s Winter Daydreams. It’s a splendid, strong and succulent piece though quite unlike mature Holst; and none the worse for that.
Walford Davies’s forty minute four movement Symphony No.2 in G major rises from silence with a glorious density of texture and refulgence. It is, in the heroically uproarious, whoopingly surging first movement, several shades Elgarian. Indeed it was premiered in the same year as the first performance of Elgar 2 which served to obliterate its reputation – that and the Great War. Never mind: the first movement has real symphonic fibre, grandeur and weight of utterance. The second movement swings sweetly along at allegretto taking on a patina of Binge and Dvorak along the way. Occasionally it reminds me of its contemporary: Elgar 2. It’s a very attractive episode. The third movement has a clearer kinship with the first though its tenor is pensive rather than thrawn and once or twice it did meander. However it ended with some masterfully modest poetic writing. The finale turns unequivocally to the essence of the first and picks up a little of the joyous baggage of Brahms 4. Yates and the BBCCO irresistibly kindled a real surging conflagration in the last five minutes.
As with all the works last night Yates and his orchestra brought splendid excitement and lyric tension, swing and bounce to what was played. That’s an extraordinary thing given the unfamiliarity of the music. Back in the dark to Zouch Farm B&B, Culham, Abingdon – well worth a stay and within relaxing road distance of Dorchester on Thames. It’s good news that the concert has been recorded and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 sometime in June this year.
RARELY HEARD BANTOCK AND ALWYN FROM LONDON CHAMBER STRINGS.
Holst, Bantock, Alwyn, Finzi, Ireland, Britten: London Chamber Strings / Bjorn Bantock (conductor), English Music Festival, Silk Hall, Radley College, Oxfordshire, 25 May 2013
It’s the first time I have been to leafy green and red brick Radley College. There was the experience of finding it for a start. This was a challenge what with a closed road and my natural directional instincts. In fact I arrived in plenty of time. The college and its relaxed aesthetic scatter of buildings is most attractive – especially the long horse-chestnut lined avenue up to the car park outside the modern Silk Hall.
The twenty-two strong London Chamber Strings played in this very agreeable airy wood ceilinged venue which in plan resembles two semi-circles separated/joined by a central oblong extending element. The ensemble were impressively directed with demonstrative clarity, eloquence and grand gestures by a relative of the composer of one of the pieces in the programme – Bjorn Bantock. The violins (12) and violas (4) played standing while the cellos (4) and basses (2) were seated.
Most of us are used to hearing Holst’s A Moorside Suite in its original for brass band but this version for strings is very appealing. The moving power of the first movement took me by surprise. The whole was delivered with wonderfully spirited kinetic force. This version fully justifies a concert existence in its own right.
In the Far West is a title typical of Bantock and balances with another work from 1912: In the Far East – also for strings. In fact there is a whole chapter of GB works from about that time for string orchestra. It was never reached by Vernon Handley in his Bantock project for Hyperion, but I cannot understand why as this often soulful piece registers high on the emotional Richter Scale. It is gutsily rhythmic – not at all the fey ‘twilightery’ we might have anticipated. I had thought that this would be about Hy-Brasil and the Celtic periphery. No such thing – it appears to be about cowboy or picket-fence America. A moment or two may have escaped from his Pierrot of the Minute but otherwise the fancy is muscular and masculine. Strangely some of the more forceful pages sound like some fearful Sultan’s tale while at the same time getting to grips with an echo of Beethoven’s fate motif. The gentler moments recall the Sibelian half-lights of the GB Celtic Symphony. In the second movement Bantock makes sentimental play with Swannee River in something akin to Grainger who himself was no slouch when it came to populist emotionalism. The movement ends in a hushed diminuendo. The third movement is stiffly fugal in character and was not a success. The finale was memorable with its gusto and guttural attack relieved by Griegian lyric episodes alongside a knockabout reference to Yankee doodle. It’s an intriguing fusion just not sure one a single hearing if it comes off.
Alwyn‘s Sinfonietta is fairly severe – presumably as he intended. This was the first time I had heard anything by this composer in live concert. It was the toughest work of the concert. The severity of the idiom should not be offputting. I would liken it to an intense film noir score of the 1940s with elements that include delicate filigree work from violins and echoes of the concert string orchestra works of Herrmann, Waxman and Rozsa works for string orchestra. Passions boil and seethe – even curdle – in this Bergian halflight. The finale begins extremely thorny but then moves into an overwhelmingly emotional super dense lyricism that worked supremely well. I have heard the work on CD and off-air before but this is the first time I actually felt that I ‘got’ the piece. Glorious playing.
Sadly I could not stay for the second half of the concert – my loss, I am quite sure. I do hope that this is not the last time I will hear the LCS and Bjorn Bantock. This is the sort of orchestra that shakes up the repertoire and does it in insuperable style.
By the way the name of Em Marshall-Luck’s Irish wolf-hound (much in evidence at the concert venues) is Æthelwulf. How’s that for QI trivia?
EIGHT PREMIERES SHOW ENGLISH MUSIC IN EXCELLENT HEALTH.
Blackford, Lane, Wright, Carr, Lewis, Palmer, David Matthews, Norris: Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin), Orchestra of St Paul’s / Ben Palmer (conductor), English Music Festival, Dorchester Abbey, 27 May 2013.
Put on a concert of new music these days and you can expect to attract a thin audience – a devoted few plus the family and friends of the composer. (How different things were in Beethoven’s time!) It is a measure of how far the English Music Festival has progressed in its seven years that the organisers should feel sufficiently confident to put on a concert consisting entirely of new commissions – eight in all – and expect to pull in a capacity crowd (which they did).
The first composer, Richard Blackford, wanted to epitomise the EMF and its founder/director Em Marshall-Luck choosing the title Spirited for his contribution. It did everything an overture should, creating a sense of excitement and anticipation with its alternating 6/8 and 5/4 beginning. Later the tempo was halved and the main theme appeared as a horn solo which was later taken up by the violins. A heroic trumpet theme accompanied by dancing violin figures added an aspirational touch.
Philip Lane’s Aubade Joyeuse is not absolutely brand new having already appeared in brass band and wind band versions. It was indeed a joyous work with a dance-like rhythm which started on the woodwind and then spread to the whole orchestra. As the sun rose, excitement grew and the music worked itself up to a grand conclusion.
Benjamin Britten is not the only composer to be inspired by the scenery of Suffolk. In Legend Christopher Wright has written an atmospheric piece depicting the coastal hamlet of Shingle Street – a bleak, desolate place which is believed to conceal some sinister secret. The music conveyed an air of mystery and darkness with its slowly shifting harmonies. A dissonant outburst by the brass threatened to reveal the secret, but it was over in a trice and the brooding atmosphere returned.
Violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck has played a prominent role in the English Musical Festival this weekend and it was very fitting that he should surface again in the final concert – in And Suddenly It’s Evening, Paul Carr’s nocturne for violin and orchestra. Inspired by The Lark Ascending the composer has aimed at simplicity creating a lush, slightly old-fashioned work which starts out of nowhere and rises to a passionate climax. The sincerity and lyricism of Marshall-Luck’s playing was especially appealing.
There was another visit to East Anglia in Paul Lewis’s Norfolk Suite for strings, but there was no lonely brooding landscape here but scenes involving people and activity. Castle Rising evoked images of Norman knights going about their business while Wymondham Abbey conjured up the ghosts of monks processing around the building in times gone by. Ramworth Broad was less the depiction of a landscape than the notalgic evocation of holidays on the broads; and the four movement work concluded in the present with the bustling soundscape of Norwich Market.
Sinfonietta by tonight’s conductor, Ben Palmer, ended the first half of the concert. Palmer had told a symposium that he had given up composing to concentrate on conducting and had only recently started to put pen to paper again. On the evidence he has much to offer: the music developed from a three note fanfare and an answering two part phrase and ended triumphantly with the brass imitating a joyful peal of bells.
Earlier in the afternoon David Matthews lamented how difficult it is to get a new composition performed. White Nights op. 26 exemplifies the problem: first composed 33 years ago it was having its first performance this evening. But it was well worth the wait. It was inspired by Robert Bresson’s film Four Nights of a Dreamer based on a novella by Dostoevsky about a young man who comes across a woman in tears. He falls in love with her but at a subsequent meeting learns that she is awaiting the return of her betrothed. In the composition the violin, played with passion by Rupert Marshall-Luck, represents the dreamer, the flute the young woman and the clarinet the other man in her life. This proved to be a powerful, haunting work strong on atmosphere and anguish – in which the violin eventually took up the themes of the other two instruments; and after a frenzied outburst the piece drew to a quiet close.
The most substantial work of the evening (forty minutes) was the four movement Symphony by pianist, broadcaster and raconteur David Owen Norris who was also celebrating his 60th birthday. Each movement respresents one of the Four Elements – Air, Fire, Water and Earth and he draws on a variety of sources from the Beach Boys to Watkin’s Ale. A piccolo motif is the starting point of the work which undergoes various transformations emerging as a syncopated melody which threatens to take over at one stage. Generally speaking, the latter two linked movements were the most successful: the Adagio representing Water was characterised by musical inversions and created a sense of stillness; the Ground finale was a splendid passacaglia based on Watkin’s Ale evoking a bucolic pastoral scene such as one might have come across in Dorchester in centuries past.
Well done English Music Festival for sticking to its guns and promoting the music of these islands in such a wholehearted manner. Eight new commissions in one concert must be a record for the 21st Century. Especial praise is due to Ben Palmer and the Orchestra of St Paul’s who had to get to grips with so many new compositions for one concert; they deserve top marks for concentration, commitment and courage alone. However they also imparted such sparkle to the music that the audience could not help being impressed by their enthusiasm and musicianship.
ENGLISH PASTORAL MAINSTREAM IN EMF RECITAL.
Howells, Delius, Brian, Darke, Britten: Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin), Matthew Rickard (piano), English Music Festival, Dorchester Abbey, 25 May 2013.
These recitals by Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard are a well-kept EMF strand for Saturday mornings. Last year I was able to attend only the first half of the concert. This year I was there for the whole programme which was typically generous. By contrast with the previous evening’s concert this programme treated us to works known from recordings and these days from an appreciable concert tradition. The exception was the Third Violin Sonata by that denizen of choirs and the organ loft, Harold Darke. In fact he has a significant output as a chamber and orchestral composer. Today’s concert offered the Darke sonata in the first performance of its new performing edition by Jonathan Clinch. Now how about the other two sonatas please? And I do hope that someone is also looking at Darke’s orchestral scores.
Allowing for Havergal Brian and Britten, each of whose music is pretty much sui generis, the programme occupied the English lyric pastoral mainstream with Brahmsian majesty as an influence to a greater or lesser degree – very much the latter in the case of Delius and Howells.
The Howells Violin Sonata was shown, once again, to be a work in irrepressible song with moments that recall Lark Ascending amongst all those long lyrical lines. Across the violin’s sovereign stance we should not ignore the artistry of Matthew Rickard whose playing was exemplary in majesty and in quiet abnegation – a still small voice, yet telling. His contribution throughout was key but among the many moments that completed and complemented the violinist’s primo role, that series of ever-so quiet notes near the start live on in the memory in Rickard’s hands. The silence, after the dying away of the last note and before the first clap, said it all. A great performance capturing those breathlessly ecstatic Cotswold contours and the elegies for lost friends.
The Delius First Sonata is reasonably well known with its ceaseless song his hallmark. What the pagan Delius would have made of the sonata being performed in a church we will never know. Perhaps he might have regarded it as part of his own Evangel among the Faithful. Just occasionally all that decoration and song reminded me of Szymanowski in the Mythes. Not so many years later Delius would have put the impassioned final music second and ended with the heart-stilling central Lento as he and Moeran did with their violin concertos. Even so the magnetic pull of tenderness and regret soon drew him back from drama and the final theatrical flourishes – grand as they are – fool no one.
Havergal Brian’s Legend came next. Brian must have had a sensitive soul that was open to the violin – just listen to the solos in The Gothic and in the Third Symphony let alone in the Concerto – one wonders whether the lost original will ever float to the surface. In the mercurially shifting Legend there is grand rhetoric alongside the same lyric tendencies indulged deliciously in the examples I have quoted. Marshall-Luck and Rickard moved effortlessly into Brian’s language.
The Darke Violin Sonata no.3 was a completely unknown proposition to me. It turned out to be in a decidedly Brahmsian idiom and with some ideas where you can trace back their lineage to the Brahms Violin Concerto. There we have it: Darke in unresisting thrall to Brahms except for one episode that reminded me of Sibelius in exotic mode and at one instant of Grieg. The explosive virtuoso finale is closer to the idiom of Brahms’ friend, Dvorak. The ideas are good, never fear, so do not be put off by my ham-fisted references to other composers. What matters are the ideas not the expressive language and the ideas here are often delightful.
Benjamin Britten’s early Suite is typically quirky, witty-clever and completely different from the rest of the programme. Only in the atypically romantic second movement does Britten link arms with the likes of Howells and RVW; not that he would have thanked me for drawing the parallel. Satirical and parodic decay of stately ballrooms is alive in the third movement. It’s as if La Valse had been rendered by Salvador Dali – forgive the mixed media. Barber was deferential to the same tradition in his Souvenirs but Britten was having none of that and was having some fun into the bargain. What a fascinating piece; it should win Britten new friends if given a chance.
As to the performances, they brimmed with the personalities of these two very fine artists and paves expectations for next year’s concert. EMF 2014 will not be complete without their generously timed and generously hearted Dorchester programme.