WHICH was Elgar’s greatest masterpiece, his Cello Concerto, Second Symphony, Enigma Variations or Serenade for Strings? The last of these four marvellous works shows Elgar as a master of writing for strings.
Leamington Chamber‘s expanding strings produced a most effective and infectious lilting first movement to his Serenade, a contemplative slow movement and a big last movement finishing flourish.
David Whitaker and Eleanor Robson lead their respective cello and violin sections with increasing confidence. Confidence too, is exuded Richard Laing who conducts in the most uncomplicated manner allowing his strings to flourish, at times seraphically floating, never allowing speeds to drag.
Arguably the greatest of the romantic cello concertos – Dvorak’s B minor concerto – was Oliver Coates choice for a solo performance. This month he won the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Young Artists. The gorgeous opening theme from the horns is developed by the cello and then picked up by the clarinets and oboes. Both Bernard Sutton and Anne Hagyard excelled supporting Coates in this, Dvorak’s impassioned hymn to his homeland and tribute to his recently deceased sister-in-law. Coates gave a truly moving performance, the plaintive ending bringing the concert to a fine close.
Separating Elgar from Dvorak, we were offered the second full performance of Ivor McGregor’s Symphony No 1. Born in Leamington, a graduate of the Royal College of Music, he now bases himself in Birmingham, alongside our own Howard Skempton, to compose and freelance as a violinist. In the programme notes, Ivor writes about his symphony being a “psychological journey with each movement taking a mood or state of mind as a starting point and evolving it through time”.
Flutes develop the opening themes, complemented by other wind instruments, particularly bassoons and clarinets, subsequently echoed by the strings. McGregor builds big crescendos in both first and second movements before the flourish to close the symphony. We will hear this again, I have no doubt.