Donate Now to Support KDHX

Listen Live
Saturday, 02 March 2013 17:27

Concert review: Intensely committed Elgar and boisterous Beethoven with the St. Louis Symphony at Powell Hall, Friday and Saturday, March 1 and 2

Tasmin Little Tasmin Little bbc.co.uk
Written by Chuck Lavazzi
Rate this item
(0 votes)

The score of Elgar’s 1910 "Violin Concerto" carries the Spanish preface, "Aqui está encerrada el alma de ....." ( "Herein is enshrined the soul of ....." ). Is it a secret love letter to the wife of a member of Parliament or even, as Elgar biographer Jerrold Northrup Moore suggests, a tribute to several of the composer’s closest friends? And does it really matter anyway?

The answer to the first question appears to be "we don’t really know," but the answer to the second, in my view, is "no." With the exception of program music, where there are explicit non-musical reference points, a work has to stand or fall on its own merits. Biographical detail can provide illumination, but it can’t be a sine qua non.

I bring this all up because while it’s useful to know that the concerto was dear to Elgar’s heart, it doesn’t make the work any more approachable for me. Yes, it’s filled with much that is admirable and even moving. The second movement, for example, is often ravishingly beautiful and the remarkable accompanied cadenza in the finale, with pizzicato tremolando strings in the background, has an unearthly quality for which I find myself unable to find adequate words. But ultimately the lack of differentiation among the concerto’s themes, at least to my ears, renders it structurally murky and makes it feel overwrought and over-long.

In his liner notes for the 1993 recording of the concerto, Michael Kennedy quotes Elgar as describing the work as follows: "It's good! awfully emotional! too emotional, but I love it." Perhaps a little less love and a bit more rigor would have helped.

That said, you could hardly ask for a better performance than the one we got Friday night. Soloist Tasmin Little and conductor Sir Andrew Davis are major exponents of the work and their commitment showed in every note. Ms. Little, resplendent in a golden gown, attacked the music with a fierce and even (at times) grim concentration that yielded a presentation rich in poetry and virtuosity. Sir Andrew, for his part, led the orchestra in a nicely paced and lovingly shaped collaboration (you could hardly call it accompaniment, given how well Elgar integrated the solo part with the orchestra). Conducting without a baton, he shaped phrases with his hands in a way that was remarkable to watch. No wonder their 2010 Chandos recording has garnered critical raves. If, like Elgar, you love the "Violin Concerto," you won’t want to miss this performance.

For me, though, the real highlight of the evening was the Beethoven "Symphony No. 4" that followed intermission. Whether or not you go along with the "Music History 101" notion that Beethoven’s even-numbered symphonies are lighter in tone than his odd-numbered ones, there’s no getting around the fact that the fourth is all a-bubble with good humor. From the lively Allegro vivace that follows the highly dramatic opening Adagio of the first movement, to the comical little descending passage for bassoon that interrupts the coda of the finale, this is music by a composer young enough to be optimistic but mature enough to have mastered his craft.

Sir Andrew gave us a performance that was cheerfully boisterous without sacrificing the drama of that opening Adagio or the beauty of the second movement. The musicians played at their usual high level, which meant that the many little star turns Beethoven devised for the woodwinds sounded especially fine. Congratulations to Mark Sparks (principal flute), Barbara Orland (acting co-principal oboe), Scott Andrews (principal clarinet), and Andrew Cuneo (principal bassoon) for their solo work and, while I’m thinking of it, to associate principal timpanist Tom Stubbs as well for his reliably precise work.

The concert opened with an exquisitely nuanced "Walk to the Paradise Garden", originally composed by Frederic Delius in 1907 to cover a long scene change in his opera "A Village Romeo and Juliet." This portrait of the intense passion of the doomed lovers has since taken on a life of its own on the concert stage. It’s quintessential Delius, with shimmering strings and a pervasive sense of pastoral beauty, all of which came through wonderfully in this performance, including some nice solo work by Ms. Orland and associate principal clarinet Diana Haskell. Sir Andrew even allowed a moment of silence at the end that felt just right. Well done.

Perhaps the best thing about Friday night’s concert, though, was the obvious joy with which Sir Andrew approached the entire business. This was apparent, for example, during the curtain calls, when he ran back into the orchestra to shake hands with individual players and repeatedly encourage the musicians to stand up and take their well-deserved bows. This is a man who takes immense public pleasure from music making and, as a result, inspires it in the audience as well.

Next on the calendar: Richard Kaufman conducts "An Afternoon at the Oscars" on Sunday, March 3, at 3 PM. Soprano Tony Arnold and pianist Peter Henderson perform Messiaen’s "Harawi" on Wednesday, March 6, at 7:30 PM at the Pulitzer Foundation. The regular season resumes on Friday, March 8, at 10:30 AM and Saturday, March 9, at 8 PM with Alban Berg’s "Violin Concerto," Brahms’s "Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn," and Beethoven’s "Symphony No. 2." David Robertson conducts with soloist James Ehnes. For ticket information: stlsymphony.org

Upcoming Concerts

Sponsor Message

Become a Sponsor

Find KDHX Online

KDHX on Instagram
KDHX on YouTube
KDHX on SoundCloud
KDHX on Facebook
KDHX on Twitter
KDHX on flickr

Local Artist Spotlight


Dad Jr: Get Down. Hard.

Sun June 29

Graham Pagano

Mon June 23
Graham Pagano's debut album Quit Complaining is a high charged mix of old and new music. his old blues and classic country feel blended up with a rock and roll attitude makes this stripped down album explode…

88.1 KDHX Shows

m-crowd.jpg

KDHX Recommends

July
Saturday
26

Genevieve at Harvest Sessions 2014

Genevieve at Harvest Sessions 2014 Harvest Sessions welcomes Genevieve -- featuring Rebecca Ryan and Leslie Sanazaro -- to the West Pool Pavilion for a morning of acoustic music. This free Saturday morning concert series takes place at the Tower Grove Farmers'...


July
Sunday
27

88.1 KDHX Musical Merry-Go-Round Welcomes Sugar Free All-Stars

88.1 KDHX Musical Merry-Go-Round Welcomes Sugar Free All-Stars 88.1 KDHX Musical Merry-Go-Round welcomes Sugar Free All-Stars for a family matinee Sunday, July 27 at Noon. Kids under two are free. $8 advance tickets on sale now. Tickets available at the door for $10. Kids under two are free. For...


July
Thursday
31

Bradford Lee Folk & The Bluegrass Playboys

Bradford Lee Folk & The Bluegrass Playboys KDHX presents Bradford Lee Folk & The Bluegrass Playboys at The Stage, July 31 at 8pm. Tickets available online.   Born in Louisiana and raised in Missouri, Folk remembers watching his Dad pick the country blues on a...


Get Answers!

If you have questions or need to contact KDHX, visit our answers portal at answers.kdhx.org.

Online Users

6 users and 11407 guests online
Sign in with Facebook

SYSTEM: S5 Box

Login/My Account

Sign in with Facebook