Elgar and Walton are frequently called “quintessentially English” composers but their music is steeped in diverse influences, many from beyond these shores, and these were teased out by conductor John Wilson and the BBC SSO in this crisp and insightful performance.
BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow ****
The orchestra’s colourful evocation of a bustling, smug capital city in Elgar’s Cockaigne (In London Town) might sound predominantly English, but among the church bells and cockneys there’s a Wagnerian swagger to the brass’s more militaristic passages. And embracing the Brahms-like lyricism of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Leonard Elschenbroich demonstrated why this is such an enduring repertoire favourite worldwide. His warm, mellifluous tone was at the heart of the work, seamlessly blending with a solid, on-form string section as well as the horns. Elschenbroich is a thrilling player to watch, and while technically secure in the faster sections, it was his tender expressiveness in the adagio that impressed.
Walton’s quixotic Symphony No 1 might be uneven and erratic, but the BBC SSO’s visceral performance of this 1934 work was gutsy and compelling. The first movement is the most focused with it’s tight muscular rhythms and strident brass textures that look back to Holst’s Planets and prefigure the Star Wars galaxies of John Williams. Although the orchestra brilliantly highlighted Walton’s experimental flourishes, the rest of the symphony suffers from an over-abundance of ideas that never quite gel. The presto lacks focus, the adagio never fulfils its lyrical promise while the explosive finale hurtles along, unsure of how to come to an end.