Elgar ‘Cello Concerto; Beethoven Pastoral Symphony

When an orchestra includes in its programme two such well known works as Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto it has clearly set itself a real challenge. Both works are so familiar to the concert going public that the audience will always have a clear preconception of what to expect. The cello concerto, in particular, has a special place in our national heart with the recording by Jacqueline du Pré being regarded by many as the definitive interpretation of that work.

The Tonbridge Philharmonic orchestra never shies away from challenges and under the masterful baton of Robin Morrish it has grown in confidence over the past few years. This concert proved to be a delight, with each work portraying its unique character in full. First there was Rossini’s overture Semiramide, not one of his best known, but very much in the style of The Thieving Magpie and William Tell. From the first note it could have been composed by nobody other than Rossini with tuneful melodies, captivating rhythms and lyrical passages which climax in a splendid finale. Robin Morrish kept the orchestra, especially the strings, moving forward at an exciting pace, making the most of the long crescendos and gave the evening a happy and joyous start.

The soloist in the cello concerto was Oliver Coates a young cellist of the highest quality. His reputation was enhanced as he captured not only the emotional side of the work but also relished the more reflective passages with his graceful playing. It was not a flamboyant interpretation but deeply reflective, allowing us to have an insight into Elgar’s troubled mind as he composed it shortly after the horrors of the Great War. In the second movement the orchestra occasionally threatened to overpower him but always retreated just in time. The simplicity of the third movement was beautifully interpreted with each phrase a joy to hear and reflect upon. His warm tone and sensitivity seemed to be a product of his personal insight which recognised in full Elgar’s private world.

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony is one of his best known. Composed at the height of his powers in 1808 these recollections of country life require the listener to be transported into an early 19th century landscape on a warm summer’s day, albeit one which will include a thunderstorm. The second movement By The Brook is dependent on flutes and clarinets and that section of the woodwind played with great sensitivity and feeling. In the third movement, The Happy Gathering of Villagers, it is the oboe and strings which make or mar the section; both were superb. Next is the Thunderstorm which requires the brass to be on top form. The sound produced made the audience feel that perhaps the drought was coming to an end so realistic was the thunder. Finally the Shepherd’s Song where the strings were inspired to produce a rich dreamy sound that sent the audience home proud of their local orchestra which had enhanced its reputation yet further.

James Cook