Elgar’s Second

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 17th March, 2016 – 7:30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Walton Prelude: Richard III
  • Walton Viola Concerto
  • Elgar Symphony No. 2

“Rarely, rarely, comest thou, Spirit of Delight!” Edward Elgar headed his Second Symphony with a line from Shelley, and then launched it in a huge, surging wave of golden sound. Is this the greatest symphony ever composed by an Englishman? Edward Gardner and the CBSO will make a passionate case – after beginning the evening with Walton’s jazz-age concerto, and another stirring cinematic salute to Shakespeare.


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Review by John Allison, Telegraph:

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…     “Performances are always welcome, especially when the soloist is this country’s leading viola player, Lawrence Power, returning here to the piece with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner.

Premiered in 1929 by no less a musician than Paul Hindemith as soloist (decades later, Walton would repay the favour with his Variations on a Theme of Hindemith), the work is sometimes identified as a jazz-age concerto. But it is much more than that, and specifically the romping middle movement marks it out as a great example of British modernism. Gardner took that aspect in his stride, along with all the other elements he fused together tautly and seamlessly.

Right from the ruminative start, Power displayed rock-steady authority. He found serenading delicacy and fierce virtuosity in equal measure. Although it shows the influence of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, still only a decade old when Walton was writing his piece, the Viola Concerto is also shot through with the Italianate light the composer had discovered in the Amalfi – and the ends of both the first and third movements were given their full glinting radiance.”     …


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Walton at his more authentic followed, with Lawrence Power the engaging soloist in the melancholy Viola Concerto, shaping a poignant characterisation from his eloquent instrument.

At times his tone was appropriately bluesy, at others his rhythmic attack was as biting as though playing Prokofiev, and the lovely ending brought us near to Elgarian wistfulness.

Which we then heard in abundance, in the most perfectly-judged performance of Elgar’s nostalgic Second Symphony I think I have ever heard. Compared with Gardner’s subtle reading, memories of Boult seemed too literal, Barbirolli too head-pattingly indulgent; here Gardner set flexible tempi, discreetly encouraged significant instrumental lines (the horns were understatedly magnificent, the double-basses noble), and to the slow movement’s threnody brought mystery as well as inner grief.

There was a prolonged hush at the end of the work’s twilit coda. Then time to go home and savour the programme-note penned by our greatest writer on Elgar, the late and much-missed Michael Kennedy.”


Review by Rebecca Franks, The Times:

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…     “The 1929 Viola Concerto that Elgar so disliked blends dark, doubting melody with dancing modernity. Lawrence Power was the eloquent soloist, a virtuoso who draws you in, asking you to listen. Always agile, purposeful and lyrical, his sound was sweet and silky up high, angrier and rougher in the lower reaches. A quiet but certain voice in a turbulent world, he held both hope and anguish side by side with moving poignancy.

“I have written out my soul,” said Elgar of his Second Symphony (1911), dedicated to the memory of Edward VII. Gardner’s driven approach didn’t always give the elegiac moments room to breathe, or the voices of doubt to speak, but emphasised the complex modernity of this music. The Scherzo was, as Elgar wanted it, “very, very brilliant”. Elsewhere the strings played with radiant Wagnerian intensity, and it ended with a beautifully judged fade from gold to dusk.”