CBSO matinee concerts are always virtual sellouts, attracting music-lovers reluctant to negotiate the city at night. But last Wednesday’s was genuinely so, with people queuing for returns.
And who could wonder at it, with the attraction of the charismatic and adept young John Wilson conducting an all-British programme, some of it hefty, some of it gently and nostalgically evocative.
The orchestra (as do so many others in the land, including his own hand-picked group, for which the country’s most eminent players put themselves on the waiting-list) obviously love playing for him – as he loves conducting them – and doesn’t it show.
A weighty first half began with Elgar’s rarely-heard (in comparison with the workaday ‘Pomp and Circumstance’) ‘Imperial March’, opulent yet delicately nuanced, followed by Butterworth’s ‘Shropshire Lad’ Rhapsody, beginning with an opening as hushed as the end of Holst’s ‘Neptune’, then violins elegantly phrasing, and Wilson’s easy, fluent beat securing a reading unfolding in one great arc.
Michael Collins, so empathetic with the orchestra (John Wilson subsequently told me “they didn’t really need me to conduct!”), was the soloist in Gerald Finzi’s wonderful Clarinet Concerto. It was so good to hear this string-orchestra score with the full sound of a symphonic complement, permitting so many nuances complementary to Collins’ own, which were now light, now punchy, now dark, and so limpid in the music’s frequent arabesques.
The second half was an intoxicating cornucopia of British light music classics (the Canadian Robert Farnon with his ‘Jumping Bean’ an honorary Brit, especially after his war effort).Outstanding among these was the Overture to Lionel Monckton’s ‘The Arcadians’, strings so rich, and Eric Coates’ ‘Dancing Nights’, more redolent of Ravel and Richard Strauss than the composer’s own beloved Glazunov, and conducted by Wilson wearing the composer’s own watch on his wrist! No wonder the time-keeping was immaculate.