This orchestra is a class act. The Festival Hall, despite being hot and airless, suits the makeup of this band really well, and the sound was clear and resonant, with none of the destructive echoes that so often mar orchestral performances held in churches.
We can forgive them the occasional untidy moment in A Somerset Rhapsody and probably Holst would have taken the pragmatic view and understood that the first, shortest and lightest work was never going to get much rehearsal time. Elgar’s celebrated Cello Concerto was certainly not neglected, and the power of this narrative was conveyed with steely conviction by soloist Joy Lisney, even if there remained scope at times for a little more poise in the most expressive moments. This was energetic and accomplished playing, with the flexibilities of Elgar’s tempi beautifully handled.
Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow proved much more than a palette cleanser after the interval and you will not hear a better-balanced final chord from an orchestra. But, of course, the star of the second half was Vaughan Williams’ deeply felt testimony to all that he had seen in the Great War. Those celebrated parallel harmonies in A Pastoral Symphony were richly defined, and there was feast of deft solo playing from all departments. It would be perverse not to single out Mark Cox, who delivered a superb trumpet cadenza in the second movement, but in truth there were endless moments worthy of note from all sections. They also serve who play alongside the principals, and sloppy playing dulls the sound, but the purity of intonation here was frequently humbling, and ensemble tautly maintained by Mark Biggins at the helm.
The orchestra called their concert “A Farewell To Arms.” This was a fitting tribute and they can be very proud.