Bournemouth SO Plumbs Emotional Depth in Elgar’s Second Symphony


Ravel, Vaughan Williams, Elgar: Jack Liebeck (violin), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Richard Farnes (conductor). Lighthouse, Poole 8.11.2017. (IL)

Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin
Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending
Elgar – Symphony No. 2 in E-flat major

The BSO’s ‘In Memoriam’ title for this concert was appropriate enough considering its proximity to Remembrance Sunday.

The second movement of Elgar’s Second Symphony is cast in the spirit of a funeral march dedicated to the late Edward VII and to the memory of Elgar’s late close friend and champion, Alfred Rodewald. Richard Farnes is known mostly as an opera conductor latterly with Opera North where he was Music Director from 2004-2016. Elgar’s symphony is narrative-driven and intensely personal, almost operatic, so I guess Farnes must have relished conducting it. Indeed that celebrated first movement episode in which Elgar evokes a nocturnal shadowy spirit in a summer garden is extraordinarily malevolent under Farnes. This performance was noteworthy for, mostly, the magnificent playing of all sections, especially the emotional warmth of the violins—in fact, of all the strings. The Larghetto second movement, funeral march, was very moving, and its tremendous climaxes were well terraced. How well this music underscores film of royal funerals. The third movement’s horrifically dark poundings were well realised; so too were the more extrovert nobilmente proclamations of the final movement. Alas, the close, for this reviewer, was ruined by strident horns. This final passage is supposed to be played in quiet serenity: a recessional not a processional.

The concert began with Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, not often heard these days. The four movements are dedicated to the memory of named gallant soldiers who had fallen in the Great War. Ravel’s music pays homage not only to Francis Couperin (1668-1733) but also to the Baroque musical forms. The music is cheery rather than sombre. As Ravel explained to his critics, ‘The dead are sad enough in their eternal silence.’ The BSO players took advantage of their opportunities to shine through the charm and delicacy of the composer’s instrumental colours and textures.

Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending is deservedly popular. Originally conceived for violin and piano it was largely conceived in 1914, but set aside until 1919 when it was completed and revised for its first performance in 1921. At this time of Remembrance, I do not think it is too fanciful to consider it as an allusion to a hero’s soul ascending with the lark. Jack Liebeck’s pearly tones ascended with heartfelt beauty together with a very sympathetic BSO accompaniment.

Ian Lace

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