2012 Reviews

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Classical Source: June 2012

Mark Bebbington gave the first public hearing of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra. Created between 1896 and 1902, revised two years later though never performed, this is the latest instance of a large-scale work from the composer’s formative years that he chose not to release, yet there is little to fault in the relationship between soloist and orchestra – the former’s role as commandingly conceived as that of the latter is assured in its ranging from chamber-like intimacy to imposing rhetoric. ... Whatever Vaughan Williams’s reservations, its rehabilitation could not be more welcome.

As attentive to its technical demands as its emotional follow-through, Bebbington proved equally assured in John Ireland’s Legend (1933). Inspired by the writings of Arthur Machen as well as an apparition witnessed by the composer on the Sussex Downs, this single movement of alternately ominous and otherworldly atmosphere is without parallel in his output – its elusiveness making for an unsettling but enthralling experience. Bebbington had the measure of the opening section’s sombre rhetoric ... while he and Martin Yates were at one in bringing out the ambivalence of the restive close.

After the interval, there was a comparably rare revival for Delius’s Over the Hills and Far Away (1897). Described by its composer as an overture, this is more akin to a tone poem whose cumulative outer sections – emerging from wistful remoteness to surging affrmation – frame an intermezzo-like central span of real expressive deftness. ... The concert ended with a first public outing for Martin Yates’s realisation of sketches left by E.J. Moeran for his Second Symphony (1950). Much has been written as to whether what survives is the extent of what had been achieved on the work and, indeed, whether its composer had even decided on its overall form ... there can be little doubt that Yates has made a convincing elaboration of what remains in fashioning a ‘four movements-in-one’ design ... Yates secured a response even more vital than on his recent recording.

MusicWeb International: 03 June 2012)

The British have a tendency to take their composers for granted or else to ignore them completely – which is why it is so unusual and refreshing to come across a festival devoted entirely to English music, and now celebrating its sixth year. ...

I was expecting a respectably sized audience when I arrived for the first night of the Festival, and was delighted to fnd that the substantial Abbey Church by the River Thames was crowded with people. ... The first première was of Vaughan Williams’s Piano Fantasia completed in 1902. Soon after he composed it, he declared it to be one of his most important works, but on his return from the First World War he discarded it. Was it because he had little confdence in writing for the piano? That it wasn’t ‘his instrument’? Mark Bebbington’s performance, far from exposing any faws in his handling of keyboard music, suggested complete assurance on the part of the composer, not least in his challenging cadenzas. Themes were passed seamlessly between soloist and orchestra, there was a delightful passage for piano and woodwind, folk music elements added further interest to the music and the whole Fantasia was pleasing to the ear. ...

Mark Bebbington is an excellent advocate of British music and we were fortunate to have another opportunity to enjoy his empathetic approach in John Ireland’s Legend. [This work], which was originally planned as a piano concerto, is full of atmosphere and ranks among his greatest compositions. ...

Another composer whose anniversary we are celebrating this year is Delius, represented in this concert by Over the Hills and Far Away, which the composer described as a ‘Fantastic Overture’. ... This is ravishing music which envelops the listener completely, and the BBC Concert Orchestra gave a truly magical account of it.

I have omitted mention of the conductor until now, mainly because in the fnal work he plays a more central role than conductors normally do. Martin Yates has taken E.J. Moeran’s sketches for the Second Symphony, which [Moeran] never completed, and turned them into a fully fedged work. ... It is something of a blockbuster, the kind of work orchestral managers like to schedule to end a concert on a high note – and the Sketches seems to ft the bill admirably. ... I note that Martin Yates has recorded his realisation of Moeran’s work for Dutton Epoch with the [Royal Scottish National Orchestra]. I hope the Scots perform it with the commitment and panache that the BBC Concert Orchestra displayed on this occasion.

Roger Jones

Classical Source: 05 June 2012

This year’s English Music Festival closed with a concert from the now so-called ESO, taking part in both its ‘English String’ and ‘English Symphony’ guises. The former duly opened proceedings with Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite (1926), in a performance which brought out the bracing rhythms and the astringent harmony of its faster movements ... with John Andrews not skimping on the pathos of Pavane or wistfulness of Pieds-en-l’air. ...

Next was music by William Alwyn. Inspired by both the painting and the poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Autumn Legend (1954) comes midway through a decade that was dominated by the writing of symphonies, yet its searching austerity and elusiveness look forward to the composer’s last years. As so often with Alwyn, a sense of rhapsodic freedom is belied by the formal ingenuity with which the piece evolves: taking its cue, perhaps, from Sibelius’s The Swan of Tuonela which is a likely model – though the latter’s sombre fatalism is replaced here with an altogether less oppressive inwardness; a quality to the fore in this perceptive reading. Delius has been a mainstay of the current EMF and his music was much in evidence. An oversight by the publisher meant only six of the Seven Danish Songs (1897) were available to be performed, though the relative uniformity of mood between them and the consequent lack of cumulative expressive follow-through meant the sequence worked fne as it stood – enhanced by an eloquent response from Elena Xanthoudakis, who seemed unfazed by the often awkward nature of the word-setting ... Andrews compensated for the missing song with an extra item – A Song before Sunrise (1918), whose improvisatory unfolding and expressive poise seemed well suited to this conductor’s demonstrative manner. ...

The evening ended with a welcome revival of Hubert Parry’s Third Symphony (1888), for two decades the most often heard such piece by a British composer until Elgar’s First upped the symphonic stakes irrevocably. Unlike the full-on appropriation of the Brahmsian model in his Fourth Symphony, Parry was here content to follow in the lineage of Mendelssohn and Schumann – creating a work whose unforced and equable nature he was wont to downplay, for all that its easy melodic appeal commended itself to audiences then and could so again today. Andrews had the measure of the Allegro’s genial energy, the ESO underlining the ingenuity of its contrapuntal writing, while the ruminative warmth of the slow movement was as keenly delineated as the high spirits of the scherzo (with its cunning elision of sonata and ternary forms), then the fnale unfolded its 12 variations on a warm-hearted theme with a cumulative momentum capped by the rousing yet typically unforced apotheosis.

Whether or not this symphony is more inherently ‘English’ than many comparable Austro-German works is a moot point, although one that does not detract from its merits as they stand. A degree of rhythmic infexibility aside, this was a fne account which brought the concert, and this year’s EMF, to a laudable close.

MusicWeb International: 05 June 2012

Barry Marsh ... gave a fascinating pre-concert talk about Moeran’s Second Symphony ... a talk illustrated with tapes of interviews and one brief snatch of the start of the Dutton Epoch CD of Martin Yates’ realisation of the symphony. ...

While I differ from Barry and Martin Yates about the music being quite different from the First Symphony – the one he did complete – I think we are all agreed that this is a most blessed piece of music. More of that anon. In an unaffected style Barry described the arc of the story with all sorts of mysteries along the way. ... It’s a roller-coaster of a tale and loose ends still trail intriguingly, including the prospect – a guess really – that a full score may yet exist. One day we may be able to compare that with Martin Yates’s voluptuous and stylishly unerring realisation of this work. It has been given enchantingly vivid life from the surviving 590 bars and developed by Mr Yates into some 1100 bars and 33 minutes.

The evening concert at the Abbey was very well attended and was broadcast by BBC Radio 3. It gave the world the chance to hear the concert première of the Moeran Second Symphony. ... The BBC Concert Orchestra was conducted by Martin Yates and the pianist in works by Ireland and Vaughan Williams was the phenomenally gifted Mark Bebbington whose non-percussive velvety touch belies the nature of the piano. He also has the vulpine energy to unleash the instrument’s martellato power in the grander moments. The Vaughan Williams Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra ... is an early work, long shelved and written [between] 1896 [and] 1904. ... This twenty-minute piece is caught between the magnifcence and strenuous heroism of the two Brahms concertos and the beckoning Whitman mysteries of the Sea Symphony. Bebbington seemed to revel in the torrential Lisztian monsoon unleashed by the young RVW at one point and in its Stanfordian glory. ...

After a brief interview with Bebbington we moved to another work hardly ever heard in the concert hall: John Ireland’s Legend for piano and orchestra. With its Arthur Machen associations it is a potent and tensely concentrated brew of mystery and melancholia. ... The spell this work casts in the right hands – and it was in the right hands here – is vibrant. Ireland’s fragile world often seemed to reference that of Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School amid the ferns and lichen. Then again I was surprised to catch myself thinking of RVW’s trumpet fanfares in his Third Symphony during Ireland’s writing for the cor anglais. The hypnotic drum-beat seems to evoke a resigned acceptance of the end of all things and made me recall a similar moment in the Sixth Symphony of a composer whose symphonies Ireland execrated: Bax. ... Bebbington’s soft-toned playing again contrasted well with the few moments of heroic clamour. ...

The much-anticipated Moeran symphony opens with a whooping and surging fgure. It’s gorgeous stuff with a Tapiola-style storm along the way. It crackled with electricity. The more poetic writing is deeply touching in a way that almost sounds Tchaikovskian. And the big theme towards the end recalled, without quoting, RVW’s music for the fllm The 49th Parallel. After arriving at a still centre the music moves onwards at a cracking pace into another rushing Moeran storm and a maelstrom of rapidly swirling currents. Just before the fnal romp home there are touchingly honeyed solos for the principal violin and viola and a clarinet solo presumably originally intended for Moeran’s good friend, Pat Ryan, the Hallé’s principal in the 1930s and 1940s.

The orchestra and Martin Yates were on halcyon form such that I now want to hear Yates in the Moeran G minor. He looks set to rival two other conductors who have made the G minor shine in new and vivid colours: Vassily Sinaisky and John Longstaff ...

The following morning we were back in the Abbey for a chamber concert given by Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin) and Matthew Rickard (piano). Sadly, we couldn’t stay on for the second half of the concert which included the Elgar Violin Sonata. John Pickard’s Insomnia ... was the toughest music so far but there was no doubting its terrifc density and Mephistolean concentration. After this came the First Violin Sonata by Roger Sacheverell Coke. I have wanted to hear his music for a long time, especially the piano concertos and symphonies. ... The 35-minute sonata was darkly romantic with echoes of Rachmaninov and, at times, of Bax. I think many people will have been intrigued by this piece which was given with utter dedication and total accomplishment by the two players. ... The first half ended with Lionel Sainsbury’s fine Soliloquy for solo violin, a very classical, serious and immediately appealing piece. ... Both John Pickard and Lionel Sainsbury came forward, when beckoned, to acknowledge the warm applause for both musicians and composers.

Bob Barnett

Henley Standard: 11 June 2012

Festival-goers on the opening night were especially privileged to hear a World Première performance of the Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This dramatic work, divided into six sections, ends with a crescendo drum-roll. Composer John Ireland’s evocative work Legend, begins with a haunting horn solo. He wrote this rather melancholic piece following his mysterious experience seeing ghostly, silent children on a remote beach. [sic].

Martin Yates, conductor and composer, spoke about his interpretation of the final piece of the evening, also a World Première performance. Sketches for Symphony No. 2 in E flat by E.J. Moeran/Yates begins with a vigorous opening trumpet fanfare, a triumphant end to the evening.

Sunday evening showcased a completely different, and extremely enjoyable musical experience in the Abbey on the theme of King Arthur, performed by the enthusiastic chamber Orchestra of St Paul’s conducted by Ben Palmer. The first half of the concert — Henry Purcell’s King Arthur and Benjamin Britten’s The Sword In The Stone — were both lively and entertaining. The second half, Arthur — A Tragedy by Laurence Binyon, was enhanced with the addition of Robert Hardy as narrator, who wove the tragic story of King Arthur between instrumental sections written by Edward Elgar. The enduring tale of love and betrayal, loyalty and treason was dramatically played out, culminating in the fnal evocative piece with tolling bells, which accompany the solemn procession of Arthur’s body to Avalon. The atmosphere and acoustics within the Abbey provide a stunning setting for showcasing both classical music and narrated drama.