Saturday 12 August 2017

Premiere of Brian Elias' new cello concerto at the BBC Proms

Leonard Elschenbroich
Leonard Elschenbroich
Brian Elias Cello Concerto; Leonard Elschenbroich, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ryan Wigglesworth; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Jill Barlow on Aug 9 2017
Star rating: 3.0

A complex and rewarding work: premiere of Elias' new cello concerto

Despite torrential rain making for slippery pavements, and a replacement cello soloist having to be found as the much anticipated Natalie Clein was indisposed, a pretty well full house audience duly assembled in the Royal Albert Hall on the night (9 August 2017) to welcome in Brian Elias' new cello concerto, performed by cellist Leonard Elschenbroich, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Ryan Wigglesworth at the BBC Proms.

Following Britten's Ballad of Heroes, in came the robust new cello soloist Leonard Elschenbroich, who has been described as 'one of the most charismatic cellists of his generation', projecting the new work with enormous enthusiasm and verve, duly delivering the four movements 'with no break'.

Full of colour and contrasts, well orchestrated, this interesting work was well received by the enthusiastic audience but I couldn't help but feel needed greater definition so that the listener could better distinguish one movement from the next amidst so much overlapping of material.
To quote the composer himself in the programme notes :-'the music throughout is generated from the ideas presented in the first few bars ,and these ideas and their variants appear freely in the different sections. Recurring material and references to earlier sections are used deliberately to create not only a sense of unity but also an impression of familiarity that aspires to induce a dream-like perception of the passing music, a kind of spiral'.

We hear impassioned passages from the strings and poignant oboe, recalling the opening and a cadenza style passage providing resolution but with, by design, no break between movements ,at first hearing confusion could set in for the discerning listener especially as a 'sestina' is incorporated involving a whole lot more programmed spiralling repetition of material. There is later a lovely 'Adagio molto', the solo cellist joined also by five cellists from the orchestra, more allusions to earlier themes, the whole work ending enigmatically on an abrupt note.

A lovely work, full of passion and endeavour, but at first hearing, call me old fashioned, I felt some listeners might find it difficult to follow quite what was going on in the structure of the movements, as few would have their eyes glued to the excellent programme notes. People usually just like to listen for themselves and glean what is going on from the music as it unfolds acoustically. Perhaps the device of offering a 'preconcert talk' could prove useful at some future performances of this complex and rewarding work? Just an idea. I wish it well.

As I was scheduled to concentrate on just reviewing the cello premiere ,after grabbing a cup of coffee in the foyer ,after the interval, I to brace myself to face the gusts of wind and driving rain outside I was about to venture forth into the night, but was caught in my tracks by the enigmatic sounds of Elgar's Nimrod issuing forth from the concert hall ,played as I've never heard it before, slow, and with a hushed opening-absolutely beautiful .Now I don't usually go much for Elgar,often a touch too pompous by half, but what a composer and what definition of movements - that's a refreshing thought.
Guest review by Jill Barlow

Prom 32 - August 9 2017
Leonard Eschenbroich (cello)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Ryan Wigglesworth (conductor)
Britten - Ballad of Heroes, op.14 (first performance at the Proms)
Brian Elias - Cello Concerto (BBC Commission, world premiere)
Purcell arr Elgar - Jehova quam multi sunt hostes mei
Elgar - Enigma Variations

The prom is available for 30 days on BBC iPlayer.

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