United Kingdom Holst, Elgar, Brahms: Andreas Brantelid (cello), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Garry Walker (conductor), Town Hall, Cheltenham, 20.10.2013. (RJ)
Holst: St Paul’s Suite, Op. 29, No. 2
Elgar: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in E minor, Op. 85
Brahms: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op.73
One is so used to hearing the St Paul’s Suite performed by a chamber orchestra that this performance by a full symphony orchestra caused a frisson. Holst composed it for St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith where he was Director of Music, which may suggest that it is a relatively easy piece to play, but he clearly had some very gifted protégées who were capable of quite challenging stuff. Scottish conductor Garry Walker took advantage of the larger musical forces at his disposal to heighten the drama and dynamic contrasts within the work. The opening part of the second movement had a magical silvery sheen, and the Intermezzo gave a powerful evocation of the mysteries of the Orient with the sinuous violin melody played by the orchestra’s leader. There was plenty of energy in the final Jig with the Greensleeves melody emerging from the dance rhythms to delightful effect.
Elgar’s Cello Concerto was composed in the aftermath of the First World War during which a number of his friends and acquaintances had perished. The Danish cellist Andreas Brantelid seemed anxious to emphasise the elegiac aspects of this work in his performance. There was an element of pathos, almost world-weariness, in his opening solo which was maintained in the hushed orchestral playing, during which the faint sound of tolling bells could be heard in the strings. The mood lightened as the music moved into the major key, expressing a nostalgia for happier times in the past. The scherzo had a buzz about it, and despite its liveliness each note could be clearly heard. The slow movement was heart-rending, played with a mixture of sorrow and of serenity, while in the finale the outbursts of bombast seemed strangely muted and a mood of wistfulness prevailed.
Brahms’ Second is the most genial of all his symphonies and the opening section for horns and woodwind set the scene for the Romantic rusticity which pervades the work. I was impressed by the warm tones Walker coaxed from the orchestra and the clear direction he provided – thoughtful rather than extrovert. The scherzo was a particular joy to listen to with some delightful playing from the woodwind above a gentle pizzicato accompaniment from the cellos. The conductor certainly did not spare the horses or himself in the finale, but things never got out of hand and there were passages of great tenderness and transparency which tended to overshadow the more solemn moments. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is clearly on top form these days and it is encouraging to find that Britain can still produce high calibre young conductors like Garry Walker who, on the strength of this performance, is destined for a glittering career.