HomeOperaTadaaki Otaka’s triumphant return to Cardiff in Elgar – Seen and Heard...

Tadaaki Otaka’s triumphant return to Cardiff in Elgar – Seen and Heard Worldwide

United Kingdom Elgar, Britten, Maconchy: Simone Lamsma (violin), BBC Nationwide Orchestra of Wales / Tadaaki Otaka (conductor). St David’s Corridor, Cardiff, 25.3.2023. (PCG)

Tadaaki Otaka conducts violinist Simone Lamsma and the BBC NOW © Yusef Bastawy

Elizabeth MaconchyNocturne for Orchestra
Britten – Violin Concerto, Op.15
Elgar – Symphony No. 2 in E flat minor, Op.63

Fashionable listeners appropriately regard Elgar’s Second Symphony as an evocation of the Edwardian period of the 1900s. It nonetheless comes as a shock to grasp that it was written three years earlier than that richly romantic and decaying society crashed to its demise within the trenches of the First World Conflict. And it epitomised the sense of doomed civilisation that clearly prevailed within the minds of many contemporaries – not that many of the critics on the first efficiency in 1911 realised as a lot. In 2019, Richard Westwood-Brookes revealed Elgar and the Press: A life in newsprint, a useful compendium of evaluations. In it, he assembled a full fifteen pages of press cuttings which just about totally failed to understand what Elgar was making an attempt to attain. Solely two writers even observed how the sinister theme from the primary motion erupts in barbaric and aggressive ferocity within the Rondo third-movement, which all of them in any other case continued in relating to as a mere jolly high-spirited trifle. Huge quantities of print had been expended on arguing whether or not the second motion must be thought to be a funeral march or a lament. No marvel that Elgar complained of incomprehension in an viewers who ‘sat there like stuffed pigs’.

At this efficiency in St David’s Corridor there may certainly have been no chance of incomprehension. The excellent orchestral enjoying stinted nothing in accuracy, vitality or ardour. You might additionally hear within the third motion the shells whistle by way of the ruined masonry and see within the second motion the distant gunfire on the royal funeral disturb the fluttering pigeons. The music is of remarkable issue even for such a grasp orchestral technician as Elgar, however the balances had been exceptionally nicely realised, and readability was of the essence. Even within the finale the sudden trumpet eruption within the central part was built-in so the principal theme within the bass was not overshadowed.

One level of purely private criticism: the oboe triplet theme within the second motion, like a crying girl within the crowd was not fairly outstanding sufficient in opposition to the ominous however barely over-loud accompanying bass funeral music (even when Steve Hodson performed it sensitively and passionately). However then that is all the time a passage problematic to steadiness in reside efficiency. Even Sir Adrian Boult in his closing BBC Proms efficiency of the symphony, launched on CD some years again, didn’t convey it off. Tadaaki Otaka was in his ingredient. He even managed to convey some sense of catharsis to the finale after the turbulence of the previous actions. Even so, I nonetheless have the uneasy feeling that Elgar didn’t actually know the place to go subsequent in symphonic phrases – not till twenty years later he penned that extraordinary vicious rending aside of parallel open fifths on the opening of his Third Symphony.

Britten’s Violin Concerto can be appears oddly to change into uneasily not sure of its bearings within the closing motion. After a rapturous opening and reams of sensible passagework, Britten settles right into a large-scale passacaglia the place the orchestra assumes centre-stage and the solo violinist stands uncomfortably lengthy as a silent observer. This curious neglect hardly ever impinges on recorded performances however turns into extra problematic underneath reside circumstances. Not right here. Simone Lamsma proved from the primary to be uncommonly concerned within the relationship between the soloist and the orchestra. She performed with no rating and regularly half-turned to face the orchestra. She thus aided and abetted their infectious rhythms, and at one stage appeared to enter right into a problem with Philippe Schartz’s feisty trumpet. Her assault on the 1718 Stradivarius instrument was cruel and unremitting. I don’t recall ever having heard such pinging excessive pizzicato notes in a reside efficiency, positively resonating out even over Britten’s full-sized orchestra. Through the silent passages within the finale, she was equally dedicated to the progress of the music. She even turned her again on the viewers at one level to have interaction extra carefully with the orchestra whereas she continued to play. Not for one second did she sacrifice tone or readability even in probably the most stratospheric reaches. Tadaaki Otaka, a diminutive determine by the facet of her statuesque presence, clearly relished the sense of battle that she delivered to the rating, which thereby gained in stature.

The live performance had begun with an actual novelty within the form of Elizabeth Maconchy’s early 1950 Nocturne for Orchestra, a piece I had not recognized. Stephen Johnson wrote wonderful programme notes (and contributed a really perceptive commentary on Elgar’s symphony and its descriptive parts). He identified that Maconchy is now remembered principally for her chamber music, and that her personal insecurity in her orchestral talents made her destroy two symphonies. Girl Bracknell springs inevitably to thoughts: ‘To destroy one symphony, Mr Worthing, could also be thought to be a misfortune; to destroy two, seems like carelessness.’ On the idea of the Nocturne, I fully fail to grasp such reticence. The orchestral writing is all the time idiomatic, even romantic in locations, with resonances of Britten, Bax and even her pal Grace Williams; some melodic writing for the trumpet anticipates by 5 years Williams’s Penillion. The thematic invention, not probably the most instantly catching, was nonetheless well-crafted and lay nicely for the devices. The writing for the celesta specifically was authentic, intriguing and ingenious. And the work rose from delicately impressionistic beginnings to an actual emotionally clinching climax. If the piece had a descriptive programme – it felt as if there might need been one – it remained undisclosed. Maybe a extra resonant title might need helped set up the work within the repertory, nevertheless it stays inexplicably and unjustly unrepresented even within the recording catalogues.

A disappointingly small viewers was onerous to clarify regardless of an unexpectedly heavy downpour of rain. Maybe the Cardiff viewers feels that, with the Violin Concerto a few weeks in the past, they’d had their fill of Elgar for the month. They had been flawed: this was an outstanding efficiency of a rating that’s troublesome even at present. I’m delighted that BBC Radio 3 are proposing to relay the live performance in full as one among their night programmes. I might suggest that anybody who loves the Second Symphony as a lot as I do makes each effort to listen to that broadcast, or catch it on BBC Sounds. Maconchy’s piece is nicely value investigation too.

Paul Corfield Godfrey



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