Wednesday, July 27, 2022
Royal Albert Hall, London
Andrew Manze has recorded Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Nine Symphonies (in Liverpool for Onyx) and, here, in the First of them, he rode the waves of A Sea Symphony, setting words by Walt Whitman. Unfortunately, the oceanic opening was vague and poorly balanced (as broadcast), chorus and orchestra set at a distance, each somewhat indistinct, but things settled for the ensuing shanty, although later stages were pushed along a bit too much, neither soloist quite on top of their part, soprano (sea-)faring better though, and the combined choir very responsive, as throughout, with Jacques Imbrailo coming into his own for the rapturous nocturne of the second movement, followed by the wind fully in the sails for the Scherzo, athletic and resonant choral singing and nimble playing, if lacking for tangibility on the broadcast. The expansive Finale was suitably searching and awe-struck over its thirty-minute duration, such generously expressive music eventually fading over the horizon.
Leading up to the VW, and performed with distinction, Bishop Rock (Scilly Isles), 1952, by centenary composer Doreen Carwithen (who was married to William Alwyn), a colourfully scenic piece, its exuberance and inviting lyricism well-worth getting to know; so too, for strings, Grace Williams’s Sea Sketches (1944), which the BBC National Orchestra of Wales played just a few weeks ago at Aldeburgh with Martyn Brabbins, http://www.colinscolumn.com/aldeburgh-festival-2022-martyn-brabbins-conducts-bbc-national-orchestra-of-wales-in-grace-williamss-sea-sketches-brittens-suite-on-english-folk-tunes-a-time-there-was-and-the/, descriptive, well-made music in five movements covering a range of moods, not only suggesting a kinship with Bliss’s Music for Strings (as previously cited) but, this time, Williams also seemed acquainted with Britten’s Les Illuminations. Sea Sketches also had a recent outing on the Cutty Sark, http://www.colinscolumn.com/concert-on-the-cutty-sark/.
Elizabeth Llewellyn (soprano)
Jacques Imbrailo (bass-baritone) [replacing Andrew Foster-Williams]
BBC National Chorus & Orchestra of Wales
BBC Symphony Chorus
I can’t share your enthusiasm for Jacques Imbrailo, whose sobbing delivery of the baritone role continued throughout the whole piece; it also lacked style and warmth and was sadly devoid of magic, as if he was just singing the notes and those wonderfully evocative words as they appeared on the page. A firmer sense of line might have helped. How much notice did he get? Had he sung it before? Such a disappointment in a performance I was greatly looking forward to and which, otherwise, was very good indeed.