<< -- 2 -- Malcolm Miller HEART-RENDING BEAUTY
Elgar's Cello Concerto, composed in 1918, is often seen as an elegy for a lost era, yet there was an enthralling voice of optimism and hope in the performance by Natalie Clein with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, under Leonard Slatkin at London's Royal Festival Hall on 7 April 2005. A decade after winning the BBC Young Musician Competition, Natalie Clein has blossomed into an international artist of originality and depth, as also shown by her particularly moving rendition of Bloch at the televised Holocaust Anniversary service at Westminster Hall, and her success at her recent New York Lincoln Centre début. Here her interpretation drew out the varied characters of Elgar's autumnal masterpiece with conviction and eloquence, reminiscent of the greatest cellists. The sweet yet steely tone of her 18th-century Guadagnini cello infused Elgar's yearning melodies with passionate intensity, especially in the poetic slow movement and its re-echo in the finale, while there was magical delicacy to the fizzing Scherzo and noble energy to the rumbustuous finale.
The all-English programme opened with a bang with William Walton's jazzy Portsmouth Point Overture, which Slatkin injected with Bernsteinesque pizzazz. The colourful canvas of Vaughan Williams' London Symphony, displayed the brilliant colours of the RPO responsive to Slatkin's finely judged command in a memorable performance. Though it was composed five years before the Elgar, the symphony is full of allusions to modern city life, such as its dawn and evening scenes around the Thames, evocations of Big Ben in the harp and clarinet, recalling Copland's Quiet City. There was an inspiring stillness in the third movement, 'Bloomsbury on a November afternoon', with its atmospheric folktune for viola solo, and frothy fun in the hustle-bustle of night-life in the West End. Slatkin is rightly considered a Vaughan Williams authority; one hopes that, following his tenure with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he continues to work with other excellent British orchestras such as the RPO, with gains for British music and audiences.