Sakari Oramo's Elgar credentials are beyond reproach. With the City of Birmingham Symphony Orcehstra, he led the Elgar 150th birthday celebrations, culminating in a stunning series of all three symphonies. He didn't win nthe Elgar Medal - even before Andrew Davis - for nothing. It was a pleasure to hear him conduct Elgar at the Barbican London thus week with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Oramo's traverse of Elgar's Symphony no 2 Symphony no 2 in E flat major. (()p 63) was magisterial, emphasizing the broad sweep of ideas within. Elgar referred to the piece as \"a passionate journey of the soul". With magnificent assurance, Oramo created thet motif that suggests the "Spirit of Delight" in the famous quote from Shelley. For a moment it seemed that this glorious serenity might never end, yet disturbing murmurs arose from the brass. What then do we make of the tension that built up with the bristling jagged rhythms. Early audiences didn't know what bto make of this most personal, and most enigmatic of pieces. It also heralds the long years ahead when Elgar wrote relatively little.
Ostensibly, Elgar was mourning the death of Edward VII. It would be too much to expect that he might, in 1910/11, have intuited the passing of an era. But modern audiences, with hindsight, cannot help but ponder.
Whatever that "Spirit of Delight" might be, Elgar's elusive second symphony is mediation on impermanace, especially in the context of vthe rest of this programme, which began with George Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad Rhapsody. This, too, was written in 1911, when the confidence seemed beyond challenge. The Industrial Revolution started in Britain. A prosperous and urbanized nation .ruled the world - literally - through gunboats and trade. British writers like Wordsworth led the romantic revolution in Literature. Yet, while Germans had been exploring folk culture for a hundred years, British composer and intellectuals were just beginning to seek out forgotten oral tradition. Georgina Boyes's book The Imagined Village !1993) explodes a few myths about this period, and is essentail reading. Perhaps A E Housman's poems, and the novels of Thomas Hardy, , re-opened the ong lost mines of nostalgia.
Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad Fantasy is based on Housman's poem When I was ne and twenty, which Butterworth also wrote as a song for voice and piano, as did his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams. the poem is pristine. Blossoming trees "wear white for Easter tide". But petals fall, and youth grows old. "No use to talk to me". Oramo and the BBC SO performed it with grace, capturing the mood of transient magic. There's no room for maudlin sentiment. Butterworth didn't know he was going to be daead within 4 years. And, as Housman reminds us, Spring returns every year, whether or not we're there to witness it. Oramo's approach blended beauty withn dignity, far closertom the spirit of the poem, and to Butterworth's music.
That Oramo and the BBCSO do Elgar and Butterworth well is a given. The revelation, on this occasion, was Anna Clyne's The Seamstress, receiving its UK premiere. It's based on a poem by W B Yeats, which tells of a seamstress who embroiders a coat with many colours and images, only to have it stolen. Clyne, British born but resident in the US, adapts the sounds of Irish fiddle playing, creating a keening, other worldly palette that evokes the past yet is surreal enough to be entirely of the present. The Seamstress unfolds in five parts, which Clyne calls "ballets" reinforcing the idea of movement and constant change. The coat is lost, perthaps stolen, but its memory, and the creative urge behind it, remains unsullied. Clyne's The Seamstress is an exceptionally beautiful piece, worth listening to over and over on repeat broadcast. Jennifer Koh's playing was sensuous and very expressive. An utterly fascinating piece and performance, perfectly attuned to the emotional spirit of Elgar 2 and Butterworth.
Original Content: Oramo BBCSO Butterworth Anna Clyne Elgar