BBC Symphony Orchestra
November 23 2018 2018
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Nuanced, compelling Elgar from a young superstar cellist
Everyone knows the rule that all-British concert programmes don’t sell out. But everyone also knows that the rule book has to be torn up when Sheku Kanneh-Mason is playing. And playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
Elgar was at the end of his composing career when he wrote it and it reflects the painful sensitivity and nervous vulnerability which lay under what seemed to be his confident exterior. Sheku is at the opposite end of his musical career, making it even more remarkable that one so young can plumb the concerto’s emotional depths with so much insight. The opening flourish almost said it all: Sheku captured precisely both the heroism and the sense of loneliness and uncertainty which go with it.
And this was true of the concerto’s ending too: the heart-breaking recall of the slow movement theme, the sense of bleakness punctuated by silence – before soloist and orchestra hurtled towards the abruptly dramatic conclusion. No one who was there will forget this finely nuanced, profoundly compelling performance.
Conductor Martyn Brabbins coaxed much fine, colourful playing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the suite from Sir Arthur Bliss’s Checkmate ballet. The scenario is a game of chess, the music as ear-catching as the eye-catching red+gold/black+silver colour scheme of the original production. Highlights included the exuberantly tuneful Red Knight’s Mazurka and the final moments when the Black Queen stabs the Red King with a spear.
Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony isn’t about the English countryside but rather about the battle-scarred landscape of France where the composer served as an ambulance orderly in the Great War. In some ways it’s his ‘war requiem’ and the BBCSO gave an intensely moving performance, especially the ethereal offstage bugler in the slow movement and the wordless vocalise for solo soprano melting into silence at the end.
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins with Sheku Kanneh-Mason, cello