Thursday, June 1, 2023

St David’s Hall, Cardiff

Coming out of her student phase, Grace Williams’s early-1930s aperitif was later dismissed by her as “not worth performing”. She was correct, Concert Overture being rhythmically stiff and raucously scored, revealed this performance. Mozart’s E-flat Symphony (K543) was rather unsettled in the first movement’s introduction, spirited if a little too fleet in the exposition and occasionally held back by over-emphasis and an extended pause. Even allowing the marking is Andante con moto, the successor was moved along somewhat shapelessly, and the Minuet stampeded, given no chance to dance, the headlong Trio lacking mellifluousness if not a tell-tale rit. The Finale flew by, if played with the required agility, and at least Ryan Bancroft observed the second repeat – the return of the development can be an electrifying moment – although by now it hardly mattered.

Completing the concert, Richard Strauss’s Opus 35, Don Quixote (Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character), which centres on Cervantes’s novel about the named knight’s adventures in the chameleon company of Sancho Panza, respectively represented by the cello of Alice Neary and Rebecca Jones’s viola, both BBCNOW principals. Bancroft’s conducting revealed his affection for this descriptive score, with poise and detail intertwined, honed playing that painted pictures and expressed a variety of situations and emotions. Neary’s and Jones’s selfless artistry illuminated their respective characters’ individuality and interactions, the NOW musicians (led by Lesley Hatfield) committed and colourful in response to Bancroft revelling in the score’s caprice yet without losing sight of the overall design, Neary’s pianissimo playing remarkably compelling and poignant, all ingredients drawing the listener into escapades that were diverse yet intrinsic to the Don’s imagination. Special.