Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

Spanish-born Jaime Martín currently holds conducting posts in Dublin, Los Angeles and Melbourne, and was a familiar face in London as a flautist, including with the LPO. His journey through The Planets (a Proms perennial) proved to be a hit and miss affair: ‘Mars’ a little lethargic, not warlike enough; ‘Venus’ dragged, somewhat staid; ‘Mercury’ benefitted from tempo moderation, not least quiet timpani detail, although mercurialness in short supply; ‘Jupiter’ came off well, ebullient, and the hymn-tune was spacious and affecting; ‘Saturn’ was chilling, an inevitable corollary to being alive, alarm bells sounding, well-delineated horn hairpins as part of the final radiance (clapping really objectionable now); ‘Uranus’ was a vivid portrait of a maniacal magician (organ glissando audible) and – attacca (thank the heavens) – an icily bewitching ‘Neptune’, the Ladies of the London Symphony Chorus ideally ethereal and distant, their fading very well done… nevertheless hardly any silence before the mood was shattered. But no matter, there’s a queue of space shuttles waiting to take us on further inter-planetary tours.

The concert started with Dora Pejačević’s titularly unambiguous Overture (1919; Opus 49). Croatian composer and violinist Countess Maria Theodora Paulina (‘Dora’) Pejačević (1885-1923) is enjoying belated interest, and Overture, while lively enough (and Martín made sure it was), doesn’t have enough distinctiveness to set it apart from many similar-sounding occasional pieces; it might pass for something by a young Richard Strauss that he suppressed.

Coming centrally was Grace Williams’s Violin Concerto (1950, written for Granville Jones) which BBCNOW is no stranger to having given relatively recent performances with either Madeleine Mitchell or Matthew Trusler as soloist; and, further back, when it was the BBC Welsh SO, with Yfrah Neaman, Vernon Handley conducting (see below); and, indeed, the very first performance. Now it was Geneva Lewis’s turn. She played this three-movement, twenty-five minute Concerto with much lyrical feeling and, in the Finale, poised and pointed rhythms. Musically, the Concerto paints pictures and expresses wonderment, even mysticism, the violin entwined with the orchestra (tutti writing a little congested however), although maybe the composer doesn’t invest enough contrast between the first two movements, as engaging as both are. Lewis gave an impressive rendition – on behalf of the score and also herself, introducing (at least to me) a fine musician of charisma and innateness fortified by a lovely tone and music-serving virtuosity. Jaime Martín and BBCNOW were sympathetic partners, especially in the meditative middle movement. An encore from Lewis would have been welcome, but none was forthcoming.

BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra; November 1967.