Sometimes all the ingredients of a concert just seem right. To hear Elgar’s Second Symphony performed in Lichfield Cathedral by the Hallé - the orchestra of Hans Richter and John Barbirolli - under the baton of our pre-eminent living Elgarian: well, this was always going to feel special.
And this first major concert of the 2012 Lichfield Festival felt very special indeed. Sir Mark Elder’s heartfelt spoken introduction to this greatest of British symphonies hardly seemed necessary - the conviction and sweep of his performance said everything. Phrasing in huge paragraphs, he shaped and sustained the music as if it were ‘Die Walküre’; the blazing ecstasy of the violins at the climax of the mighty ‘Larghetto’ delivered a comparable emotional charge.
If there was a downside to this approach, it was that some of the details of Elgar’s orchestral writing seemed glossed-over. Perhaps Elder was opting for caution in the cathedral acoustic. But the final pay-off justified everything; the sense of skies clearing as struggle turns to radiant sunset in the symphony’s final bars can rarely have felt so well-earned.
The Hallé responded as if this was second nature, with some heroic horn playing. Earlier, Elder had brought out the shadows beneath the surface of Elgar’s ‘Sea Pictures’ while a luminous Alice Coote gave the impression of holding truly Wagnerian power in reserve, floating and caressing Elgar’s vocal line. Delius’ early ‘Idylle de Printemps’’ was the opener; a dewy homage to Grieg, smothered with affection by Elder and his team.