Two works premiered within three years of each other, yet looking in totally opposite directions. Elgar’s Violin Concerto, heartbreakingly reflective, and Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring, almost literally ground-breaking, shattering virtually every musical mould, and pointing towards a future which has still not been totally embraced.
This was the ambitious programme for the remarkable Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra on Sunday, and I’m afraid it didn’t quite work – though after the interval the Stravinsky set the city alight, never mind the fiery ovens of the Birmingham Food Festival just across in Chamberlain Square.
I’ve never before heard the BPO (of which I am a huge fan) sound so dejected and jaded, and frequently under-tuned, as they were in the Elgar, and I feel, regretfully, this was something that spread from the central protagonist.
Kathryn Rutland was the soloist, her technique impressive, but her projection of character and personality in this heart-wrenching piece very much on the downside. I’m sure this was partially due to her refuge behind a score-laden music-stand, always a barrier in communication. The result was a careful, studied performance, far removed from the passion with which Elgar wrote the piece.
But the Stravinsky found the BPO in totally different mode.
Despite a handful of nervous anticipations, no-one in this huge assemblage of players actually lost their nerve in this awesome testing-ground of a score, and the result was a performance of huge visceral, knife-edge excitement.
Singling out the horns, proudly swaggering their bells to the air, and the percussionists (especially principal timpanist Ben Lewis), seems unfair on the others. And chief praise has to go to Michael Lloyd, whose dedicated, semaphore-clear conducting brought this vision of scenes from pagan Russia so movingly alive.