The music of Elgar is supposed to evoke both the swagger and the melancholy – a creeping fearfulness about the future – that characterised Edwardian England.
And the symphonies and tone poems of Sibelius are said to transport us to distant Finnish forests and icy Nordic landscapes.
I can’t say that I was exactly teleported to the apogee of Empire in 1910, nor did I sniff pine needles – but the Slaithwaite Phil, conducted by Benjamin Ellin and led by Michele Northam, gave us very good accounts of Elgar’s Symphony No 2 and Sibelius’s Symphony No 5, both of which are key early 20th century works, even if they did stand apart from the mainstream of musical development.
The concert opened with Walton’s popular Crown Imperial – a very good Elgar pastiche – and continued with the Sibelius, a symphony best known for an uplifting motif sometimes labelled Thor’s Hammer.
It certainly concludes with some mighty hammer blows and these were executed with great precision by orchestra and conductor.
Whether or not it had any forests and frozen lakes, the landscape evoked in this performance of Sibelius’s Fifth had plenty of loneliness and desolation, especially in the opening movement.
This was evoked by some very skilled string playing and the Slaithwaite Phil is currently hitting very high standards in this department.
The Elgar symphony had a rather sour opening chord but was pretty good from then on and – like the Sibelius – had some very atmospheric string playing, especially in a haunting section of the first movement that is suffused with sadness.
The conductor ensured some very well controlled dynamics in the second movement including a real whisper of a pianissimo.
But it wasn’t all about string subtleties. There were telling woodwind, brass and percussion contributions too.
For example, the trombones often had a real “rip” to their sound, highly reminiscent of the tone of the instrument in earlier 20th century recordings, and it seemed a very Elgarian touch.