Musical Rarities Get an Airing in Swansea

United KingdomUnited Kingdom D’Erlanger, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, German: Aleksandre Tigishvili (violin), Mumbles Symphony Orchestra / David John (conductor), All Saints’, Oystermouth, Swansea, 1.2.2014. (NR)

D’Erlanger: Sursum Corda
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 61
Tchaikovsky: Sleeping Beauty Suite, op. 66A
German: Welsh Rhapsody

Britten, Mozart, Farrenc: Ruth Watson (oboe), James Mainwaring (clarinet), Ensemble Eos, Brunswick Methodist Church, Swansea, 15.2.2014. (NR)
Britten: Six Metamorphoses after Ovid op. 49
Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K.581
Farrenc: Nonet, op. 38


Both these concerts had intelligently designed programmes, familiar and unfamiliar repertoire set side by side to good effect. The Mumbles Symphony Orchestra, always on the lookout for the neglected, gave outings to the Sursum Corda by Baron Frédéric d’Erlanger, an intriguingly cosmopolitan composer of German-American parentage born in Paris and living his entire adult life in London, and the Welsh Rhapsody by Edward German, sometime protégé of Sullivan. Both are solidly Elgarian works, impressively constructed, the German finishing off with some splendid virtuosic variations on ‘Men of Harlech’, played as expertly as we now routinely expect from the MSO under David John.

 In Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty suite everything flowed as elegantly and stirringly as it should. The real highlight, though, was a quite exceptional performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto by the Georgian violinist, now resident in Zurich, Aleksandre Tigishvili. This was his first appearance in the UK, and I sincerely hope it won’t be his last, as I for one would go a long way to hear him again. I have written here before of the great service orchestras like the MSO offer in giving brilliant but lesser-known soloists the chance to show what they can do, and David John has an extraordinary track record in this respect: the Latvian violinist Kristine Balanas, for example, who has appeared twice with this orchestra, is now beginning to make waves at the BBC, and Tigishvili was at least as good. His effortless virtuosity was virtually taken for granted, but it was the shape and balance of his performance that really mattered, and the melting sweetness of tone he found as he came out of the cadenza to the reprise of the first movement theme was quite indescribable. The orchestra gave him fine support; soloist and band seemed equally delighted with each other, and I hope they have further chances to team up.

 The excellent Ensemble Eos, a couple of Saturdays later, also mixed their programme, starting with Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for solo oboe, played with crispness and flair by Ruth Watson. This is music which registers dangerous violence intruding on pastoral without completely overturning it – not easy to characterise, but Ruth Watson’s playing made each short section distinctive, especially the ‘Narcissus’, with its beautifully soft but treacherously seductive echoes.

 There followed a truly delightful performance of Mozart’s great Clarinet Quintet, James Mainwaring playing with the string section of the Ensemble, and playing, unusually but absolutely rightly, as if the clarinet were simply one of five voices in a conversation, rather than the dominant thread. This was so relaxed and natural a rendition that it gave a movingly renewed freshness to tunes going so far back in one’s memory.

 For the second half the Ensemble put out all their forces, almost a chamber symphony, for the Nonet by Louise Farrenc, one of the most successful and respected of nineteenth-century female composers. Her language here owed a good deal to Mendelssohn and Spohr, as one might expect: she used the same forces as Spohr had done in his Nonet, but there was much in Farrenc’s that was quite sharply distinctive. Once things got going, after the slightly stodgy opening, the piece was meaty and lively and full of interest; there were many inventive ways of thinning or thickening textures and varying colours, so that the emphasis constantly shifted between the strings and the winds, or within sections of either. If anything there was perhaps a little too much restless relocation of the musical centre, but it’s a work I for one was very pleased to have a rare chance to hear, and it was given as persuasive a performance by the nine players as it could have hoped for.

Neil Reeve