Bath International Music Festival: Bath Philharmonia
This programme reminded us of the quality of British music in the 19th/20th century. Walton's Henry V's Suite brought back a vivid recollection of the film and Laurence Olivier as the King, that I saw as a schoolboy. It was required viewing and Walton's music enhanced its dramatic intensity, with its blazing brass contrasting with the delicacy of Touch her Soft Lips. A welcome reminder of Walton's sureness of touch and skilful orchestration.
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Madeleine Mitchell directed Elgar's Salut d'Amour from the violin, a gentle unhurried account, after a rather odd introduction: and it was followed by the ever-popular The Lark Ascending by RVW, reaching up into the clouds as it makes way heavenward, with some very attractive woodwind and horn accompaniment. As always, it brought a sense of tranquillity and freedom.
Holst's Planets occupied the second half, introduced by conductor Jason Thornton in a very insightful and rather poignant picture of Holst the man, shy, rather introverted, and with a serious interest in astrology. Now nearly 100 years old, it is comparatively seldom that the suite is played in its entirety and this was a really big-scale sound, the extra lower strings giving a stability at the bottom end which was very satisfying.
Jupiter duly brought his jollity, and Mars the hard-edged brutality of war. I particularly enjoyed the rather other-worldly quality of Venus, a reassuring voice among the noise and turbulence. And the final Neptune gave a feeling of transcendent delicacy as the off-stage soprano voices from A Handful Singers, under Christopher Finch, gradually faded into the distance.
It was beautifully done, and the satisfaction in hearing the whole work as Holst intended was very fulfilling. This band is providing Bath with seriously good orchestral music. It has no discernable weakness and we must hope that it will continue to develop the repertoire in these straightened times.
Peter Lloyd Williams