Review: Swan Lake & 1930s British Music, BBC Concert Orchestra, Snape Proms, August 22

The BBC Concert Orchestra at the Snape Maltings for the Snape Proms

The BBC Concert Orchestra at the Snape Maltings for the Snape Proms - Credit: Archant

This was a concert on the lighter side with a particular focus on Lord Gerald Berners, a talented if minor figure in the artistic world of the first half of the twentieth century. Berners worked in the diplomatic service for some years and met many significant figures including Stravinsky and Diaghilev and ballet remained one of his enduring affections.

The three Valses Bourgeoise were written in 1918, originally for piano duet and orchestrated the following year although this performance used an orchestration by Philip Lane. The first is extrovert, the second rather piquant while the third is a not wholly successful homage to three Strausses. What was immediately apparent in these affectionate performances was the composer’s technical facility and an instinctive feel for composition. This impression was reinforced by the polka from the musical comedy Champagne Charlie and a work created from his only opera, the striking Caprice Peruvien, arranged by his friend and contemporary Constant Lambert. No-one, Berners included, would make any great claims for the music but it was a rare pleasure to hear such sympathetic playing of this multi-faceted personality.

The composer and academic Peter Dickinson’s Suite for the Centenary of Lord Berners originated as a series of pieces for clavichord to accompany a film, including a waltz very much in Berners’ style. It begins and ends with Blues and has a particularly sinister Dirge which builds to a frightening climax.

Malcolm Arnold’s first flute concerto was played with great skill and elan by Ileana Ruhemann. The flute is not a natural solo instrument but the string-only accompaniment and Arnold’s easy, lively style made for an enjoyable twelve minutes. William Walton’s well known Crown Imperial opened the first half with suitable swagger but there were moments when fewer decibels would have sufficed.

Just one work comprised the second half – the Symphonic Suite from Swan Lake, containing some of Tchaikovsky’s most memorable tunes and dazzling orchestration. In the early stages the sound was over-loud and unbalanced with too much brass and percussion but this was soon corrected and the players delighted in the glories of this wonderful score. There were exquisite violin and cello solos and fine contributions from the harpist, amongst others. Barry Wordsworth, principal conductor of the orchestra for seventeen years and formerly music director of the Royal Ballet was absolutely on home territory and compered and conducted with charm and authority.

Gareth Jones

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