tue 21/11/2017

BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff | reviews, news & interviews

BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff

BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff

Noisy Vaughan Williams symphony is a Royal College of Music period piece

David Atherton: Excellent, undemonstrativeAskonas Holt
It’s a neat-sounding idea for a concert: a sequence of works composed in the year the previous composer died. Neat, but not necessarily revealing. This one started with Elgar’s Cockaigne, composed – symbolically, I assume – in 1900, and ended with Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony, completed in 1934, the year of Elgar’s death. In between came Britten’s Nocturne, written in VW’s last year, 1958. With a little more time, they might have added Birtwistle’s Melancolia (1976, Britten), and left everyone completely bemused.

Their playing had all the necessary impact, and the lady next to me nearly jumped out of her skin on a couple of occasions

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Can't agree with that judgment of Vaughan Williams's Fourth. Sometimes dissonance can be exultant, as in Bartok's Fourth String Quartet, and though this symphony isn't perhaps quite on that level, it always gives me a buzz when I hear it. And are performances so frequent that we can just rule it out? Ah well, your opinion, I guess.

I make it a point of never responding to reviews of my performances and I'm certainly not going to object to Stephen's thoughtful piece. However, when I'm misquoted, as happened in the spoken introduction, I must reply. What I actually said was that, "within VW's output, the harmonic language used by the composer was forward-looking". Compare Syms 1-3. True, the last movement makes one wish that he'd never heard of fugato and the musical ideas are somewhat paltry; nevertheless I feel it is a much stronger work than is suggested above.

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