Monday 1 June 2015

Tamsin Waley-Cohen and OOTS in RVW and Elgar

Vaughan Williams and Elgar, Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Orchestra of the Swan, David Curtis - Signum Classics
RVW Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra and The Lark Ascending, Elgar Introduction and Allegro and Serenade for Strings; Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Orchestra of the Swan, David Curtis; Signum Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 26 2015
Star rating: 4.0

RVW's neglected violin concerto springs back to life, alongside more familiar classics

Tamsin Waley-Cohen - photo Riccardo Cavallari
Tamsin Waley-Cohen
photo Riccardo Cavallari
This disc on the Signum Classics label, couples one of RVW's best known works, The Lark Ascending with one of his least known, the Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra, with violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen and the Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS), conductor David Curtis. The orchestra pairs the RVW with Elgar's Serenade for Strings and Introduction and Allegro.

RVW's Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra was written in 1924/25 and dedicated to the Hungarian violinist Jelly d'Aranyi and it was she who gave the work's premiere. Originally titled Concerto Academico, RVW withdrew the title in the 1950's but the work has remained a little unloved, perhaps because the work's spirit is far less English pastoralism and rather more neo-baroque with rather more emotional detachment than we might expect in RVW.

This performance from Tamsin Waley-Cohen, David Curtis and OOTS benefits from the fact that they have performed the work together (in fact the two RVW works on this disc were the first pieces which Tamsin Waley-Cohen played with David Curtis and OOTS). This shows in the sense of familiarity they show and in the delight they find in the music.

The concerto is in three movements lasting a total of over 12 minutes. The opening Allegro pesante is rugged neo-baroque in style, with the musicians making a very up front sound and the solo violin is not over spotlit. Despite the neo-baroque, this is clearly RVW and there are some contrasts between lyrical moments and the perkier rhythmic ones. The Adagio - Tranquillo is quietly lyrical and rhapsodic, with a sense of RVW the mystic. All perform with beautiful, flexible singing tone. The work finishes with a perky, rhythmic dance performed with wit and delicacy. There is quite a folk-ish feel to the material here. It doesn't end with a bang, instead the solo violin just evaporates!

Elgar's Introduction and Allegro follows. This was written in 1905 , and premiered that year with the composer conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. It is a highly sophisticated work, as Elgar uses a solo string quartet in addition to the main body of strings to explore the varieties of texture achievable with these two groups and it is a work which gives the performers scope for considerable magic.

David Curtis
OOTS makes quite a big sound at the opening, in Elgar's introductory gesture and then this evaporates in a delicate interplay between solo quartet and ensemble. Initially David Curtis's speeds are quite steady, with a thoughtful, considered air to them, but within this framework the musicians create a finely fluid feel so the result is anything but turgid. It is an interpretation which does not rush headlong, but allows it to unfold. Curtis talks in the CD booklet about living with the work for nearly 50 years, first learning it as a young viola player, and this sense of knowing the details from the inside comes over as he gives the players space without letting things drag. At first gently moving, rather than impulsive, when things do get going David Curtis and his players really carry you along. There is a lovely broad sweep to the big tune, and a perky delicacy to the fugue, with a crispness to the underlying rhythms.

Elgar's Serenade for Strings is a far earlier work, dating from 1892, and is rather more conventional being a three movement suite for string orchestra. But Elgar's distinctive way with writing for strings is obvious even here and the work has rightly been a staple of the repertoire. The opening Allegro piacevole is graceful, delicate and impulsive, with a lovely sense of flow. The Larghetto is finely considered, with a lovely, almost aetherial tone. This poignant movement is gently thoughtful and not over indulgent. Finally we have a gracefully flowing Allegretto with a nicely delicacy of phrasing. You sense that David Curtis and OOTS have played this work a lot together, but there is no sense of routine, nor trying to make something new of it, instead we are asked to come and explore an old friend.

The final work on the disc is another which can get a bit over done. RVW's much recorded The Lark Ascending, is a work which it is easy to dismiss because of its sheer familiarity. Tamsin Waley-Cohen says in the CD booklet that she tends to take a very free approach to performance, with no two being the same, so that this disc is no more than a snap-shot of a particular performance.

What the snapshot reveals is fine grained delicacy and sweet tone; she spins the opening from a thread of sound. Again the performance is at first very considered, with strong support from the orchestra especially in the moments when solo players from OOT surround her. The whole performance has an elegance and delicacy, along with a meditative intimacy. But there is also a lovely big bold sweep to the big moments. And the solo violin evaporates beautifully at the end.

This is a lovely disc, and it should certainly win friends for RVW's violin concerto, but the whole programme has a delicacy, intimacy and freshness about it which makes the more familiar repertoire well worth exploring too.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) - Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra (1924) [12.13]
Edward Elgar (1857-1934) - Introduction and Allegro, Op.47 (1905) [13.50]
Edward Elgar (1857-1934) - Serenade for Strings, Op.20 (1892) [10.34]
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) -The Lark Ascending (1914/1921) [16.48]
Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin)
Orchestra of the Swan
David Curtis (conductor)
Recorded St Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London on 24/3/2014 (Elgar)
and Cheltenham Town Hall on 28/3/2014 (RVW)
Elsewhere on this blog:

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