Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

It would have been fascinating to hear Omer Meir Wellber conduct these masterpieces for he is certainly an interesting interpreter (with occasional eccentricities), but it wasn’t to be. Andrew Davis replaced him, no stranger to Vaughan Williams’s music – he’s recorded all the Symphonies, re-made Antartica and the Ninth, and just a couple of months ago conducted the Fourth (1935, premiered by Boult) with the BBC Phil, broadcast on Radio 3. This Proms account, while seasoned from all concerned was, in the first movement, just a little lethargic despite the scrupulous attention paid to line, phrase, dynamics and direction; conversely, the slow movement was a tad hasty, lacking a degree of desolation. The Scherzo, although deliberate, had its fair share of menace, and the Beethoven Five-like transition gathered its ominous self into a galumphing Finale that carried troubled lyricism and a searing inevitability as the music heads to the abyss, although the ultimate chord could have been more emphatic, violent.

Tippett’s Fourth (for Chicago and Solti, first heard in 1977) is a birth-to-death piece. I had the impression that the breathing-effects were here done live (Tippett’s original plan, which became pre-recorded) and Sir Andrew’s success, and therefore the Symphony’s, was the clarity and time afforded to motifs and how they fit together symphonically as well as representing the life cycle, all its different emotions and surprises, reaching its demonstrative zenith roughly halfway through, intense strings and heroic horns and brass. The BBC Philharmonic was on top form in a score not unfamiliar to this ensemble (it played Tippett Four three years ago with Martyn Brabbins,,) and the music once again compelled through its uniqueness and greatness: the closing pages – last breaths – were chilling.