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November 2019 - Elgar Cello concerto

Sevenoaks Symphony Orchestra STAG Theatre 17th November 2019'An All-English Concert'

Four composers and four contrasting styles - hard to believe that the first performances of these were less than twenty years apart. 

Elgar's cello concerto has been celebrating its 100th birthday; and has had plenty of exposure this year. It was good to hear a fresh interpretation of it on Sunday. Soloist Liubov Ulybysheva, who has appeared with the SSO before, offered a reading that had a level of restraint about it, somehow pointing up the deeply felt introspection of Elgar's creation. Her playing is technically completely assured and with the virtuosity required well subsumed into the presentation of the composer's vision. The orchestra, for whom this is a sparse score [few hiding places], contributed with a level of understanding and clarity that was admirable and enthralling. Their attention to detail adding to the magic created by the varieties of colour the cellist offered. Significantly, although Darrell Davison acknowledged a personal connection with Jacqueline du Pre, his reading had little in common with those famous recordings; it was hugely involving as a result.

The concert had started with Vaughan Williams' folk song suite [good to have all the original tunes listed by name in the programme] - an ideal opener and the only one of the items to have that 'English Pastoral' atmosphere that snobs like to sneer at. It was played with plenty of verve and thoroughly enjoyable despite a couple of slight ensemble disagreements - once those were out of the system the rest of the concert was fantastically tight. Surprising to find how many in the audience were new to this music, really positive reactions around me, as there were for the Delius Intermezzo which followed.

Delius' style seems to have little that's 'English' about it but it has somehow picked up a quintessential characteristic atmosphere. The SSO clicked into his chamber orchestra orchestration evocatively and refreshingly - the flute and oboe solos completely delivering on style and sophistication.

Walton's first symphony is uncompromising stuff for players and audience alike and the SSO gave it to us with both barrels. So much of his music is about precise rhythmic energy and this was a great and thrilling feature of their playing. The malevolent Scherzo had plenty of theatricality and venom, really gripping performing here. However there are also moments of lyrical calm - the slow movement featuring beautiful wind and string offerings. Of course the bits particularly in the last movement reminiscent of Belshazzar are winners [it's why he got the commission] and here brass and percussion really get to have their heads, energising sounds for the audience to revel in. As often with large scale scores one has to admire Darrell Davison's pacing of the totality. I found this a thrilling and intellectually gripping performance - many of the audience will still find it a tough listen but a good number of a very full house will have gone away with a less fixed view. 

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