Vaughan Williams’ Fifth

Thursday 5th May 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Bax  The Garden of Fand , 17′
  • Elgar Sea Pictures , 23′
  • Vaughan  Williams Symphony No. 5, 42′

A vision of peace in the depths of war, a pagan orgy beneath the waves of the Atlantic, or Edward Elgar revealing his deepest, darkest feelings? Forget everything you thought you knew about British music, and surrender to the emotion, as John Wilson joins Alice Coote to bring all his signature insight to three glorious masterpieces by three very different British masters.

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Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “A performance of this freshness, scope and sheer beauty is something else altogether. It’s partly about the sound. Wilson has a knack for making an orchestra glow, and the CBSO responded with ardour. The way the tone swelled with warmth in the first movement, as Vaughan Williams quotes his own ‘Alleluias’, sent waves of shivers down the spine.

It’s not just about sonority, though. In Elgar’s Sea Pictures , Wilson and the CBSO surged and flowed around Alice Coote’s smoky mezzo, giving her both space and support to draw some troublingly dark and intimate things from these much-misunderstood songs. And in Bax’s The Garden of Fand , Wilson shaped long, sweeping phrases, pushing the music urgently forward while bringing out all the swirling details and iridescent greens and purples of Bax’s art nouveau seascape. Incredibly, this is the first time the CBSO has played The Garden of Fand . From the streaming passion with which the violins sang the central lovesong, we shouldn’t have to wait 100 years for the second.

But still, the enduring memory of this concert will be the final bars of Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony. As the CBSO’s strings quivered with quiet rapture and Symphony Hall lit up with sound, Wilson offered the most eloquent possible ripost to those misguided souls who still pin labels like ‘pastoral’ and ‘placid’ on this visionary music. Heartbreaking – and sublime.”

 

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “Wilson conducted like he was making up for lost time: driving the music forward in big, surging arcs, pointing up Bax’s thematic connections, relishing the deep harmonic undertow, and, in short, putting the emphasis of this symphonic poem firmly on the “symphonic”. That’s important to say because purely as sound, it was gorgeous. Wilson let all the art nouveau details of Bax’s Celtic seascape swirl and flow, voicing big climaxes so that you really could catch the iridescent gleam of the orchestration and visualise the “sky of pearl and amethyst” that the composer described in his typically florid programme note. Harps glinted, the bass clarinet gurgled and snaked, and in the central love song, the violins let fly with vibrato as wide as the Irish Sea, streaming with passion.

It genuinely did feel like the climax of a spiritual journey Not terribly English? Hardly: few conductors take more care than John Wilson over the sound they draw from an orchestra. The gloriously idiomatic results bring the house down every year at the Proms, when Wilson conducts his own hand-picked orchestra in reconstructed scores from classic Hollywood musicals. But relatively few have commented on the sound he creates when conducting British music with a conventional symphony orchestra. It sounds different, and yet familiar: the wide-grained, flexible string tone; the glowing softness of the woodwinds; the brass by turns mellow and bandstand-brazen. It’s the sound you hear on Barbirolli’s classic recordings with the Hallé, a sound last encountered in the hands of Vernon Handley and the RLPO some time in the 1980s.

That in itself is a little miracle. But it’d be a lifeless exercise in style without Wilson’s freshness and vision – a spontaneous natural musicianship, coupled (on the strength of this concert) to an impressive and deepening grasp of long-range form.”     …

 

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