Thursday, April 21, 2022

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

As part of the BBC Philharmonic and the Hallé’s joint venture to perform Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Nine Symphonies, with conductors including Andrew Davis and Mark Elder, and all on BBC Radio 3, either live or recorded, this current concert (the fourth) had more than a touch of d’éjà-vu about it, for, as during Proms 2017, John Wilson coupled VW’s Ninth with Gustav Holst’s Planets,; and, as also then, he was on the quick side in the Symphony’s first movement – coming across as impatient – the music lacking its accustomed vision (the work inspired by the Wessex of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles) if not emotional urgency: but it sounded hard-pressed, incidents passing by too fleetingly (like a film played-back at the wrong speed), its outer recesses barely reached. The second movement, including a flugelhorn, fared better – shape and tribal rhythms apparent – with the following Scherzo (sporting saxophones in triplicate and intertwining) nicely gawky, yet the Finale, essentially moderate and serenely travelling if not without angst-ridden climaxes, could have done with greater time on its side – Wilson just kept going … aspects thrown away … and the diminishing final measures – with cymbal clashes restored (they’re in the manuscript but were not published, although Leonard Slatkin on his RCA recording restored them) – were short-changed. Although timings are only an indicator, Wilson’s half-hour didn’t tell the whole story, other conductors (as recorded) invariably add a few minutes, and reveal more, and then there was Maurice Handford (1928-86) who reached forty at a Liverpool Phil concert (also on Radio 3), a performance to reckon with, and more of a masterpiece.

Opening The Planets was a suitably thrusting and war-like ‘Mars’; ‘Venus’, broadly paced (ironically), needed more rehearsal, the violins sometimes uncertain; ‘Mercury’ was a lightly articulated arrow in flight; and ‘Jupiter’ started rotundly and then spurted, the ensuing hymn-tune dignified, if not troubling the hairs on the back of one’s neck. It was Grim Reaper time next as ‘Old Age’ arrived courtesy of an inexorable ‘Saturn’; then the ‘Magician’ that is ‘Uranus’ lacked impetus (and also, as broadcast, the organ glissando); and, finally, ‘Neptune’ was ethereal, chilly, with even greater distance achieved by the ladies of the Hallé Choir, the fade to nothingness well-managed.