The penultimate concert of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s season offered a programme of three modern English composers – Holst, Walton and Elgar.
In the first half we had Holst’s ballet. Initially, this opened his opera The Perfect Fool, intended as a parody of Wagner and Verdi. However, while the opera itself was not a success, the ballet quickly became a firm favourite, and from the opening notes it’s easy to see why. Reminiscent of Holst’s The Planets and Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, with an invocation from the trombones, the wizard calls up the sprites of the elements, earth, water and fire; the deeper notes, a clumsy dance on basses and bassoons for the muddy earth, the solo viola calling forth the spirits of water – cue harps, woodwind and celesta - and the sparkling staccato for the spirits of fire.
The dancing continued with Walton’s Façade Suite. Originally written to accompany poems by Edith Sitwell, again, the combination was not an initial success, with many considering the poems to be nonsense (I’ve listened to them so you don’t have to, but they’re available on Youtube if you’re keen), but the music became more popular than the poems, with Sunday Times journalist Ernest Newman praising Walton as "a musical joker". Here, the orchestra, led by Petrenko with delicacy and light-hearted humour, take us through a range of dance and musical genres, with a strong jazz element, sometimes surreal but always fun, with many of the tunes familiar from other media.
After the interval saw a complete change of mood. Though, like the Walton, Elgar’s piece is based on a poem, Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s Ode is dedicated to artists – the ‘music makers… the dreamers of dreams’ - and the loneliness, the isolation, and the sacrifice involved in creating art while emphasising the importance of art to the world. And nowhere is this clearer than in the heart wrenching beauty of the intensely personal music Elgar composed as a setting for the poem. While elements of the verse will sound familiar – it’s where ‘movers and shakers’ comes from - musically, Elgar included echoes of his previous works, sometimes to link with the linguistic elements -such as The Dream of Gerontius, and the Sea Pictures - as well as Nimrod from the Enigma Variations. After the prelude, which introduces the two main melodic themes, the loneliness of the artist is emphasised by the chorus singing the first lines unaccompanied, then progressing with an increase in intensity, drama, and passion.
The soloist in this performance was Liverpool-born Kathryn Rudge, whose rich and vibrant tone reflected perfectly the personal tone of the music. Though it was sometimes difficult to distinguish the words, the overall effect was intensely moving, both uplifting and heartbreaking, and after the chorus returned to the words and tune of the opening ‘We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams’ the music died away, leaving the hall in hushed silence, before the audience burst into rapturous and extended applause.
The concert is available on BBC Sounds for 30 days.
Gustav Holst – The Perfect Fool Ballet Music,
William Walton – Façade Suite
Edward Elgar – The Music Makers
Vasiliy Petrenko – Conductor
Kathryn Rudge – Mezzo-Soprano
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (chorus master Ian Tracey)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir
Reviewer: Johanna Roberts
Reviewed: 4th July 2019
North West End Rating: ★★★★★