Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 2nd November 2013:
Thoughts of war and remembrance permeated this concert of orchestral and choral music. Elgar’s Overture In the South (Alassio) is effectively a tone poem for large orchestra containing an elegiac central section adorned by a ravishing viola solo. Elgar recalls the thoughts and sensations experienced on a glorious afternoon in the Vale of Andora. The Hallé conducted by David Hill captured the swooping phrases that characterise the expression of longing in so much of Elgar’s music. The ebullient outer sections of the overture pulsed with rhythmic energy although the heavy brass was too often allowed to swamp strings and wind textures.
A similar problem occurred In Elgar’s Choral triptych The Spirit of England, in which the orchestral tuttis should have been reined in. Instead, the 120 voices of the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus were all but subsumed. Hardly a word of the text of three war poems by Laurence Binyon was intelligible. This is not Elgar’s greatest word setting; soprano soloist Elizabeth Watts’ soaring notes managed (just) to penetrate the dense musical jungle.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ 1936 Dona Nobis Pacem, a setting of poems by Walt Whitman and others, is altogether in a different league. RVW deploys the large orchestra with more consideration for the singers, better enabling Leeds Philharmonic Chorus to project the text with clarity and invest the words with some meaning. Baritone soloist Alex Ashworth’s dark timbre and excellent diction added authority to his lines. Elizabeth Watts’ creamy voice again soared above the orchestra as she intoned the words ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ (Grant us Peace). The mighty Town Hall organ, played with his customary elan by Simon Lindley, added considerable weight and sonority.