TITLE: Orchestra of Opera North with Bramwell Tovey and Paul Watkins
VENUE: Huddersfield Town Hall
By Chris Robins
CONCERTS like this show the Orchestra of Opera North to be touched by true greatness, not only in their playing but also in their programming.
To invite Bramwell Tovey – not heard often enough in his native UK – to conduct works by three of the ‘big four’ 20th century British composers was inspired.
In Vaughan Williams’ Tallis Fantasia, the Orchestra’s strings were warm, deep, flexible with a crisp surface to their tone – in fact, they could do it all.
In Elgar’s Cello Concerto soloist Paul Watkins matched the Orchestra’s strings – he too could do it all.
His unsentimental approach prevented Elgar’s indulgent long-breathed melodies and extended developments from seeming over-long.
Tovey’s emphasis on orchestral winds helped make the work more vital and emotionally complex than usual.
Although the Elgar sounded – for the first time in my experience – a significant work, Walton’s First Symphony was still better.
When will we ever acknowledge Walton for what he is – superior to Vaughan Williams and Elgar!
In this performance the Symphony – now 75 years old – was as fresh, exciting and relentlessly tense as it must have been when its first performances prompted John Ireland to tell Walton “it has established you as the most vital and original genius in Europe”.
Among many interpretative revelations, Tovey showed its famous ‘con malizia’ scherzo to be more jazzily picaresque than malicious and the opening bars of its finale to be among the most glorious utterances of any composer.