Elgar’s Cello Concerto

International Series Three – Saturday 1 August 2015, 7:30 pm Dunedin Town Hall

Simon Over, Principal Guest Conductor; Umberto Clerici, Cello

Lilburn: A Song of Islands
Elgar: Cello Concerto
Sibelius: Symphony No. 5


Southern Sinfonia’s ‘International Series’ concluded with a stirring performance of Lilburn, Elgar and Sibelius in the Town Hall. The concert opened with the atmospheric sea of tonality that characterises Lilburn’s ‘A Song of Islands’. The relish with which the orchestra approached the abundant grandiose melodies was absolutely evident. In this composition, Lilburn evokes that great warmth of the nationalNjromantic tradition, summoning exquisite vistas of New Zealand, vividly portrayed by the Sinfonia through a kaleidoscope of colour.

Umberto Clerici’s impassioned interpretation came immediately to the fore in Elgar’s melancholy opening to ‘Cello Concerto in E minor’. In this, the orchestra displayed great sensitivity in crafting its silky accompaniment, and magnificence too in conveying seamless, unblemished legato in its delivery of Elgar’s noble melodic lines. Clerici’s rendering of this concerto showcased his profound depth of knowledge for its every corner, enjoying and exacting its finest nuances with ravenous hunger. This was particularly noticeable in the spectacular remoteness he conveyed in the ‘Adagio’. Simon Over’s direction of Elgar’s masterpiece, clean and concise throughout, should be especially commended in its conveyance of breadth, space and commotion where required. At the conclusion of the work, an enthralled audience rapturously applauded the performance, which was followed by a ravishing Italian encore for solo cello, introduced and performed by Clerici.

Sibelius’ ‘Symphony No. 5’, traversing boundaries between romanticism and modernism, evokes fantastically ambiguous tonality amidst a landscape of ever-changing colours. The fascinating, disquieting opening movement to this symphony is noted in particular by the galloping fanfare at its conclusion, depicted with martial precision by the brass section. The ensuing theme and variations demonstrated a broad spectrum of emotion, brought to life, in particular, by murmuring ripples of strings and spirited flutes. The orchestra is to be especially commended for the evocative representation of the ecstatic ‘swan’ melody which began the ‘Allegro molto’, and for the powerfully unsettling string tremoli therein. The symphony closed with Sibelius in triumphant fashion: a playful journey towards the final cadence was, in particular, joyfully received by the large audience.

Reviewed by George Chittenden for the Otago Daily Times, Monday 3 August 2015.

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