Raphael Wallfisch (cello, below), BBC Concert Orchestra / Martin Yates
Lewis A Celebratory Overture (2023) [EMF commission: World premiere]
Lloyd Webber (orch. Yates) Scenes from Childhood (c1950) [World premiere]
Moeran Cello Concerto in B minor (1945)
Alwyn Serenade for Orchestra (1932) [World premiere]
Delius Two Pieces for Small Orchestra (1911-12)
Vaughan Williams (arr. Adrian Williams) A Road All Paved with Stars (1929/2016) [Public premiere]
Dorchester Abbey, Dorchester-on-Thames
Friday 26 May 2023
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
The breezy ebullience of Paul Lewis’s A Celebratory Overture (redolent of Malcolm Arnold without any risk of expressive ambiguity) launched this latest English Music Festival in fine style, with its crisp and precise playing from the BBC Concert Orchestra under Martin Yates.
As so often in these concerts, world premieres were not lacking and the first brought hitherto unknown partsongs by William Lloyd Webber arranged into suite-form then orchestrated by the conductor. If the resultant Scenes from Childhood adds but little to the reputation of this not inconsiderable figure, the Prelude yields appealing poise while Serenade is a waltz of no mean suavity, then the Finale nimbly combines elements of fugue and waltz on its way to a rousing close. Worth hearing, and not least when rendered with such obvious enjoyment.
The emotional weight of this first half inevitably fell upon the Cello Concerto by E.J. Moeran. Completed in the aftermath of the Second World War, it was the composer’s first large-scale piece for his wife Peers Coetmore; her belated and often approximate recording likely having deterred others from taking it up. Not so Raphael Wallfisch (above), his belief evident from the outset of a Moderato whose confiding eloquence is not without undercurrents of unease. These latter are made explicit at the start of the Adagio, otherwise centred on one of the composer’s most affecting melodies and building with due inevitability to a cadenza whose growing animation carries over to the final Allegretto. Here a jig-like main theme denotes an Irish influence that offsets any tendency to introspection as it guides this engaging movement to a decisive close.
Quite a performance, then, which was complemented after the interval by a first hearing for the early(ish) Serenade by William Alwyn. Written while on examination duties in Australia, this undemanding piece moves from a (mostly!) tranquil Prelude, through a stealthy and by no means uninhibited Bacchanale then a serene Air which could yet find favour as a radio staple, to a Finale that, as Andrew Knowles rightly indicated in his programme note, betrays more than a hint of Czech folk-music across its insouciant and ultimately boisterous course.
Hardly an interlude, the brace of pieces by Delius fairly encapsulate the inward rapture of his maturity. Yates (above) brought just the right lilt to the dancing gait of On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, while the subtle eddying of Summer Night on the River was effortlessly conveyed.
The final premiere tonight came in the guise of A Road All Paved with Stars – the ‘symphonic fantasy’ as arranged by Adrian Williams (a notable composer in his own right) from Vaughan Williams’ comic opera The Poisoned Kiss. Occasionally revived, its dramatic prolixity rather obscures its musical highpoints – emphasized here in what is both a chronological overview and cumulative paraphrase that also adds a non-symphonic orchestral work to its composer’s output. The surging emotion of those final stages could hardly leave an audience unmoved. This vivid reading concluded a memorable concert in which the Moeran was dedicated to the memory of Michal Kaznowski – who, as cellist of the Maggini Quartet and formerly section-leader at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, has left a legacy worth remembering.
To read more about the festival, visit the English Music Festival website. For information on the performers, click on the links to read more about cellist Raphael Wallfisch, conductor Martin Yates and the BBC Concert Orchestra, and for more information on composer and arranger Adrian Williams and composer Paul Lewis