Review – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Derngate, Northampton, English Classics with Julian Lloyd Webber, November 27th 2011

English Classics with Julian Lloyd WebberA welcome return to the Derngate for the RPO with what was for us our inaugural concert of the season (as we missed the first concert in September), a programme of English Classics. Our conductor was Barry Wordsworth, looking most amiable in his trendy black shirt. I like the way he brings the best out of the musicians in a calm and considered manner, rather than leaping about like a maniacal March Hare. He’s much more dignified.

The first piece on offer was Delius’ Walk to the Paradise Garden, which was new to me and was full of lush strings and cosy chords – a musical version of comfort eating. It felt warm and summery, unashamedly self-indulgent, and was a very enjoyable introduction to the evening.

Barry Wordsworth Next was Elgar’s Cello Concerto, with the soloist Julian Lloyd Webber. When I originally heard that he was to be performing in this concert, I was extremely excited at the prospect. He is, after all, a Big Name. Would he live up to his reputation?

He has a great physical presence when fronting the orchestra; very tall, with the wildest of hair that’s surely never seen the inside of a Toni and Guy, nevertheless sporting a discreet headband to keep it out of his eyes during the more passionate cadenzas. He wore a Bohemian blue shirt that would not have looked out of place on an 18th century shepherd. And it’s a slightly bizarre sight to see him walk on and off the stage, going sideways up and down the steps one at a time, carefully and gingerly, so that he doesn’t accidentally trip and smash his “Barjansky” Stradivarius cello from c.1690 (which would be an awful shame).

Julian Lloyd Webber His playing is, as you would expect, a complete delight. It’s soft and warm, mature and emotional. If his cello were a fine cognac, his music would be the deepest, finest, most delicate tasting that you’ve ever enjoyed; no cheap Metaxa here, this is your yummiest Camus at the very least. I particularly enjoyed the way he interacted with the lead violinist. Some soloists can appear rather aloof and retreat into themselves; Mr Lloyd Webber, however, seemed to act simply as another member of the orchestra, constantly eyeing the lead violin and the conductor for mutual reassurance that they were happy everything was going ok. He seems to me to be a great team player. I admired that.

After the interval we had Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony, which was also new to me. I really enjoyed it. Would it be banal of me to say that was because it was full of lovely tunes? That’s how it came across. I particularly loved the Cor Anglais in the third movement, beautifully played by Leila Ward; and also the combined sound of the strings just seemed to swell out to fill all the available musical bandwidth the Derngate can offer. The RPO doing their version of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, maybe?

A wonderful evening, perhaps more relaxing than stimulating, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Here’s to the next one!

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