Saturday, July 2, 2022

St John’s, Smith Square, London

Guest Reviewer, Edward Clark

This was my first visit since the pandemic to St John’s. It was a joyful reunion, a concert containing music by three of the greatest English composers plus one, thus far, denied his rightful place in the firmament, and also a composer who perseveres after a lifetime in the music profession in writing well-wrought and satisfying works that deserve our attention.

Rimma Sushanskaya is a fine conductor (and violinist) capable of bringing finesse to Elgar’s early Serenade, buoyancy and a romantic spirit to Britten’s also-early (and overlooked) Simple Symphony, ending the evening with a much-loved work by Vaughan Williams, Five Variants on ‘Dives and Lazarus’ (with harp). Her interpretations bought a spirit of delight and love that inhabits so many of these wonderful works.

In between came two less-well-known pieces, each deserving more exposure. I had the pleasure of hearing Gerald Finzi’s Cello Concerto the previous week and it made an indelible impression of craftmanship and genuine feeling in three extended movements. (I say that because Finzi remains trapped with the label of being a miniaturist.) We heard Romance, full of feeling and grace. Finzi could spin a fine sense of melodic rapture and here we heard an example of his ability to woo listeners with a good tune well-orchestrated. The programme note contrasted “the challenging and acerbic” Fantasia Della Sinfonia by Robert Matthew-Walker to the other works here. Lovers of Sibelius and Bartók probably recognised this contrast and to good effect. It is an excellent study of modern symphonic form, where we hear development of ideas carried forward through a very fulfilling eighteen minutes, brilliantly played and guided with great confidence by Madame Sushanskaya.