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Inner Calm

Holst and Vaughan Williams from Nottingham,
enjoyed by MIKE WHEELER


This concert (Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 8 November 2008) was to have been conducted by the late Vernon Handley, and was dedicated to his memory. His place was taken by John Wilson, rapidly establishing himself as one of the most talented British conductors of his generation.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was in superb form, beginning with a vivid account of the Ballet from Holst's The Perfect Fool. The earth spirits were splendidly rumbustious, the water cool and tranquil, while the fire positively sizzled.

The CBSO's leader, Laurence Jackson, was the soloist in a performance of Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending that found more of the music's deep inner calm than just about any other performance I've heard.

In Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony Nottingham Harmonic Society sang with vitality and commitment, producing a mostly well-blended sound, though some initial entries lacked a degree of crispness.

Of the two soloists, Roderick Williams sang with his usual warmth, Janice Watson had a sure feel for the music's rhetoric, though she was sometimes a touch shrill on high notes. From where I was sitting they were underbalanced against the choir and orchestra -- more a question of the acoustics than anything else, since I gather it was not a problem in other parts of the hall.

John Wilson
John Wilson

But this was John Wilson's evening. Reining in the work's tendency to sprawl, he produced one of the best conducted performances I can remember. He generated a surge of energy from the first movement's exciting opening that carried it through the more expansive central passages, and pulled off the tricky feat of holding the huge finale together.

Copyright © 21 November 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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