Brighton Dome, Sunday 2 December, 2017
Elgar’s In the South, written in 1904 and the oldest work of the afternoon, was a resounding opener in this all twentieth century programme. Barry Wordsworth dug out plenty of nostalgic silkiness, especially in the impressively clear string sound. He exploited the big rit just before the end too, so that it rang out with real Elgarian grandiloquence.
Ravel’s piano concerto written nearly thirty years later is, of course, a complete contrast. The opening and closing movements in particular often sound like Gershwin crossed with Shostakovitch. Melvyn Tan is a most engaging performer, eyes and body turned to the conductor and orchestra all the time and his left foot beating time in the jazzier Bolero-like sections – every inch a team player. He has a way of striking the keys rhythmically thereby reminding us that the piano is actually a percussion instrument. The middle movement in 3/4 with its long song-intro from the piano and then the duets with horn and cor anglais was beautifully lyrical – as was Tan’s encore: Liszt’s Bells of Geneva. Ravel, Tan told the audience, studied Liszt intensively and would almost certainly have played this piece.
Barry Wordsworth pointed up all the mournful but tuneful melancholy in the opening section of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony highlighting the similarities to Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony and the Russian-ness of it all. Then came the scherzo, at a nippy enough tempo to provide all the requisite fireworks and contrasts. To make this symphony work, you really need to milk Rachmaninov’s beautiful melodies for all they’re worth and that’s just what the conductor did in the last two movements. The finale, for instance, has a lot of lush string work but in this performance it was enjoyably joyful rather than heavy – serious music with a spring in its step.
Congratulations to BPO’s cor anglais player who worked very hard in this concert both in the Ravel and the Rachmaninov. She provided some especially attractive solos.