BBC NOW – Elgar’s Cello Concerto

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BBC National Orchestra of Wales – Elgar’s Cello Concerto

St David’s Hall
Thursday 7th December 2017

Next year shall see BBC NOW reach its 90th birthday. This is very much a cause for celebration and we can’t wait to join them for more outstanding concerts. But what was the audience at St David’s Hall left with in their final major concert of the year?

The orchestra was joined by mega force that is Japanese conductor Tadaaki Otaka, who at 70 is still a total artistic inspiration. He has been involved with the orchestra for many years and is currently Conductor Laureate. Any visit by him is a special occasion and should never be underestimated. He uses no baton (rules were meant to be broken) and has a forceful drive, which compels the players and has us on the edge of our seats for most of the evening.

Firstly we indulged in Twill by Twilight (twill being diagonal patterned fabric), by Tōru Takemitsu. Otaka never fails to bring a little of Japan to the Welsh capital and there was a special treat. Dedicated to fellow composer Morton Feldman, this is a brief composition for large orchestra, exquisite in its formula. Takemitsu has tried to capture in music the moments before twilight and it’s a mind melting experience. The luscious textures he creates through incredible orchestration might make you think you are at times floating. It’s as gentle as origami and as beautifully balanced as a Japanese garden. Incredible.

One of the world greatest cellists joined us next: Steven Isserlis for Elgar’s Cello Concerto. I’ve always wanted to hear this live and boy did it not disappoint. The agony expressed in the opening bars and the moody melodies predominant the piece. The slow movement, a tender expression of the soul, for moments we get to hear the cello as if it is sighing. Tears easily come to you in these passages and then we are trusted into the rousing final movement. Isserlis has justified his status with incredible playing that creates goosebumps and sooth the senses. His head swaying and flickering, as his long grey hair flops around is also part of the mood and to see his reactions to the other musicians whilst they play is also stirring. He even let his Stradivarius cello take a now for an unexpected comedic moment. Truly sensational!

So how would this concert be wrapped up? In comes another Russian composer to predominate the stage (Had we
had our fill of Russian music? Me, no.) with Rachmaninov. Whilst his 1st Symphony was an absolute disaster at its premiere, his Second would prove to be the complete opposite. Through this performance I was finally able to really appreciate it, such is the power of Otaka and the forces of BBC NOW.

How overwhelmingly sweeping the work is (certainly of Rachmaninov’s best). How stupendously melodic and lovingly crafted it is for the listener’s ear. The Adagio is my favourite movement, a famous and uplifting formulation of harmony personified, in heart striking execution. Again, you feel you are flying at times.

An exemplary concert.

Rating: *****

BBC NOW continues their St David’s Hall season with the world premiere of Huw Watkins’ Spring & Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Friday 19th January 2018.

Photo Credit: Colbert Artists Website

Related Articles:

Review: BBC NOW – Respighi’s Pines of Rome @ St David’s Hall

Review: Janáček’s The Danube by BBC National Orchestra Wales

Review: NDCW – P.A.R.A.D.E. & Tundra @ WMC

Photo Credit: Colbert Artists Website


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