For once the practice of labelling a concert with the title of one of its shortest works was fully justified. The Lark Ascending may be a ‘typical’ Vaughan Williams miniature, but when delivered superbly well it can be transformed into a little masterpiece, as happened here.
Tamsin Waley-Cohen’s beguilingly understated performance often suggested a birdsong soliloquy, beginning in the distance and then acquiring a joyous freedom as it came closer and danced in the air. Of course some violinists leave it at that and just let everything wash over, but the quiet intensity and tonal beauty of Waley-Cohen’s playing, especially in the hushed conclusion made you savour every note.
Despite some reluctance of the woodwind to emulate the soloist’s felicitous grace, the Orchestra of the Swan provided perfectly judged support (David Curtis is a conductor who knows when to listen and not get in the way), as they also did in Vaughan Williams’ Violin Concerto.
In some ways this was a chalk and cheese pairing, still unmistakably VW (modal folk-style tunes and rhythms) but in vigorous neo-classical mode, which showed off Waley-Cohen with equal distinction as both ensemble player and stand-alone soloist.
On much more familiar ground Elgar’s greatest string work, the Introduction and Allegro, was given a terrific reading by Curtis and his players, with super articulation and tight rhythms (plus an effortless “devil of a fugue”), closely followed by the Serenade (quietly passionate without a drop of syrup) and Britten’s Simple Symphony.