BBC Proms reviews

Proms Chamber Music 7 @ Cadogan Hall, London

1 September 2008

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: David Levene/Royal Albert Hall)

Hot on the heels of a weekend that saw glorious Summer weather on one day give way to autumnal flooding the next, Proms Chamber Music recital No. 7 contrasted Coleridge-Taylor’s sunny Clarinet Quintet with the darker side of nature in Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is someone we really should be proud of in this country but instead we’ve allowed him to slip into near-oblivion. Like Vaughan Williams, he was a pupil of Charles Villiers Stanford at the RCM, and a favoured one, but his brand of late nineteenth century lyricism has sadly gone out of fashion now. The Nash Ensemble gave a spirited account of his lively Clarinet Quintet (1895), with a languidly lovely 2nd movement Larghetto affettusoso. Richard Hisford’s nimble clarinet led a merry dance in the closing Allegro agitato, concluding a work notable for its melodic inventiveness.

There will be the chance to acknowledge Coleridge-Taylor’s mix of exoticism and Britishness in his centenary year of 2012 and perhaps we’ll see the Royal Albert Hall ringing once more with the impressive sounds of his large-scale choral work Hiawatha as tribute. Here’s hoping.

Vaughan Williams can hardly be said to have been overlooked in his 50th Anniversary year and here we heard his delightful settings of poems from A E Housman’s often dour A Shropshire Lad. The tone is quite Hardyesque (Thomas that is), with themes of sorrow, lost loves and the transience of being.

Seeking some “French polish”, Vaughan Williams looked across the channel for inspiration and the example of Ravel influenced him, not least in his choice of scoring the unusual arrangement of string quartet and piano (although its original accompaniment was just piano).

From the blustery opening of On Wenlock Edge, with its “woods in trouble”, through the uneasy breathing from beneath the sod of the sombre Is my team ploughing?, brief breeziness of Oh, when I was in love with you and bells tolling first happiness then mourning in Bredon Hill to the atmospheric setting of the final poem (Clun) , the work paints a sad and haunting landscape. The Nash Ensemble evoked Vaughan Williams’ delicate moods beautifully while tenor Mark Padmore as vocalist brought characteristic sensitivity and expressivity to the narrative.

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