The Westmorland Hall’s relatively small stage is only occasionally so crammed full of chairs and music stands as it was when the BBC Philharmonic was the recent guest of the Lakeland Sinfonia Concert Society. Adding to the air of excited expectancy was the array of microphones poised rather menacingly above the stage. A memorable evening was, it seemed, about to unfold.
It did, indeed! Two monumental works (Elgar’s Violin Concerto and Brahms’s 1st Symphony) provided the capacity audience with much to savour. A leading international violinist, Tasmin Little, brought an extra-special distinction to the evening; the Philharmonic (guest Leader, Zoe Beyers) was in splendid fettle throughout and all was under the firm direction of Michael Seal – a no-frills, clear-beat man who knows the ins-and-outs of professional orchestral life through his earlier career as a violinist with the CBSO, of which he is currently the Associate Conductor.
Tasmin Little has enjoyed a long, fruitful and loving relationship with the Elgar Concerto. During her excellent pre-concert talk she gave a revealing account of the extent to which she immerses herself in a work prior to its performance. That she had fully done this was immediately evident. Throughout the slow sections she projected a warm, rich, mellow lyricism and sweetness of tone. In the bravura passages and fast passage work her fabulous technique enabled her to really open up and throw caution to the wind. Although the balance between soloist and orchestra was sometimes suspect, I believe that, when broadcast on BBC Radio 3, the power and weight of the accompaniment would not have seemed so dominant.
As in the Concerto, so in the Symphony. The Philharmonic gave a thoroughly convincing, full-bodied account of this Romantic masterpiece. There was power, tenderness, lovely light and shade in the phrasing, pungency in the characteristic cross-bar rhythms, clarity of texture and keen adherence to Brahms’s dynamic instructions; all came to a thrilling denouement in the majestic finale.