Finding myself with a free afternoon I decided to go and see what Royal Festival Hall had to offer as I have neglected this particular venue over the last few months, if not even the last year…

Just as the title promises the programme was fully made up of pieces by British composers.

The afternoon started off with a London premiere – Song to the Soul by Charles Villiers Stanford. Even though the piece was completed in 1913 and scheduled to be performed two years after that it did actually remain unperformed and even unpublished when Stanford died! It finally did get premiered, in an edition by Jeremy Dibble, on May 2015.

The piece was very beautiful and haunting with text by Walt Whitman. There were a few moments that reminded me little of Beethoven’s Missa. Considering the piece is only 100 years old it had a much more classic feel to. The Bach Choir was in good form, even though, in my personal opinion, a smaller choir would have been more suited to the piece. Also the pronunciation was a little unclear at times – I didn’t have the text in front of me but it sounded like the text was going back and forth between English and Latin – even though it was only English. Yet, it was a really lovely piece of music that is easy to listen to.  I haven’t listened to a lot of Stanford before and I will certainly be starting to do that.

The second piece was Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Zsolt-Tihamer Visontay, the Philharmonia Orchestra’s leader, wwas playing the violin solo part. Yet, another piece I have neve heard in full before – just little excerpts. The piece has such a beautiful romantic feel to it and Zsolt definitely put such feeling into it. The harmony between the orchestra, conductor and soloist was impeccable and just added a different dimension to this great performance.

Following on that was Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. This is such a great piece to display the orchestras skills. Some of the tempi that David Hill took for them were rather on the speedy side and especially the wind and brass section were getting quite close to their limits. One of the clarinets had a tiny little, but very unfortunate squeak in one of his solos. The piece is definitely a challenge and it exposes every single instrument and the pressure is on! Whilst they did a fantastic job with a good performance there were a couple of minor niggles. The percussion section was a little pushy at times. Nevertheless it was a great fun performance.

The last piece after the interval was Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. The first time I saw this in concert was at last year’s First Night of the Proms so the bar for the performance was high. Mark Stone, the soloist, who is also a Brit, was a real surprise – his voice has such a warmth to it and it was so clear and expressive. His diction is excellent! I will certainly be keeping an eye out for his name on the London programmes. This intense full on piece of music was almost a little bit too big for Royal Festival Hall with its pompous brass moments in it. The choir was doing a great job and the number of singers was definitely needed to keep up with the orchestra. Yet, again a few minor niggles where not everybody in the orchestra was paying close attention to the conductor but regardless, a stunning performance!

It was a great to have a programme concentrate on British composers. Outside of the UK they are still very much unknown but their music is so beautiful. The moment you hear a Vaughan-Williams or a Walton you know that it is British music. I can’t quite put my finger on it what makes them so British but there is no denying that they were very skilled in putting the mentality into music. And – what do you want more on a foggy, chilly Sunday afternoon than to sit down RFH and have good dose of heart warming British music.

It was a shame that the concert was not very well attended – I guess there is an array of things to do on offer here in London on Halloween weekend – but those 2 1/2 hours were very well spend. Of course there was the occassional whisperer and cough attack during the concert but the audience was very attentive – especially during the lark – you really could hear a pin drop during the lovely violin solos. Looking forward to my next concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra!

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