The first of tonight’s two BBC Proms (Wednesday 5th August 2015) brought us relatively neglected works by some of Britain’s finest composers of the 20th century performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by its Conductor Laureate Tadaaki Otaka www.askonasholt.co.uk/artists/conductors/tadaaki-otaka with violinist Chloë Hanslip www.chloehanslip.com and soprano Ailish Tynan www.ssartists.co.uk/artist/ailish-tynan
The concert opened with William Walton’s (1902-1983) Spitfire Prelude and Fugue (1942) where Otaka’s measured performance brought a real sense of grandeur to the Prelude before launching into a dizzying Fugue; the BBC National Orchestra of Wales really on their toes, bringing beautifully managed dynamics and capturing its varied moods.
Chloë Hanslip joined Tadaaki Otaka and the orchestra for Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) Concerto Accademico (1924-25). Hanslip brought a lovely balance to the Allegro pesante as she weaved Vaughan Williams’ melody around the orchestra revealing a poignant romanticism. In the brooding Adagio tranquillo, Hanslip’s tone was never over sweet keeping a beautifully restrained character. The orchestra achieved some superbly hushed string textures, rising to moments of ecstatic beauty. They brought a scintillating Presto played with great subtlety whilst never losing momentum.
The winning combination of Chloë Hanslip, Tadaaki Otaka and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales showed this to be an undeservedly neglected work.
As an encore, Hanslip and the orchestra gave the Prommers Elgar’s Salut d’Amour (1888) to which they brought an equally fine sensibility with some exquisite moments.
The Welsh composer Grace Williams (1906-1977) studied under Vaughan Williams. For those who know her music through the recordings from Lyrita and Chandos, she is unjustly neglected. Her late work Fairest of Stars (1973) is a richly opulent score that has a wonderful chromatic beauty, full of ecstatic fervour. Soprano Ailish Tynan brought a rather subdued passion to the opening, though Otaka drew some wonderful hushed glowing textures from the orchestra. Tynan slowly built the long breathed lines to moments of fine ecstasy though there was perhaps a certain lack of the urgency. This did allow some exquisite details to be revealed.
Overall it was wonderful to hear this glorious work brought to a larger audience. We really do need some enterprising record company to record Grace Williams’ Missa Cambrensis.
After the interval Tadaaki Otaka and the orchestra returned to perform Elgar’s Overture Froissart (1890). This conductor showed his idiomatic understanding of the quieter moments with some wonderfully turned phrases and beautifully light orchestral textures, revealing many little details that gave a freshness to this performance.
For some reason the qualities of Walton’s Symphony No. 2 (1960) are overlooked, perhaps suffering from comparisons with his First Symphony. In tonight’s performance, Otaka and the orchestra revealed many lovely orchestral textures in the Allegro molto bringing a real feeling of underlying impetus and finding glimpses of Walton’s bittersweet melodic core. Walton’s rhythmic instability was brilliantly handled, building to moments of terrific energy and drama. The opening of the Lento assai brought some fine blending of woodwind with Walton’s bittersweet emotional edge truly revealed. There was lovely pointed phrasing that added so much before the music rose and flourished with superb pacing. Otaka showed the mysterious, unsettling forces that haunt this movement before a fine outpouring towards the end and the hushed coda. Otaka and the orchestra brought some terrific individual instrumental details to the Passacaglia, another movement full of strange and haunting ideas superbly revealed by this conductor before building to the resolute coda.
Surely this was a performance to convince anyone of the qualities of this wonderful symphony.