Review: A stirring return to orchestral music with the Royal Philharmonic in Northampton

Anna Brosnan reviews the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton, on October 15

Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 12:16 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 12:18 pm
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (photo: Chris Christodoulou)

When it comes to orchestral concerts, a programme packed with those well-known ‘heavy hitters’ - the pieces of music most loved by all, will rarely fail to coax audiences through the door.

Let’s face it, with the shadow of Covid-19 hanging across the world, a little coaxing is sometimes necessary to persuade people back into large crowds again.

But what better persuasion was there on Friday evening (October 15) than at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate where the musicians of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) were performing the Enigma Variations by Sir Edward Elgar – an undisputed crowd-pleaser.

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The variations are a series of character portraits , dedicated, in his words, ‘to my friends pictured within’. And the audience was certainly greeted like an old friend by energetic conductor Jamie Phillips who explained how delighted the orchestra members were to once again be playing for a live audience and enthusiastically declared: “Welcome back!”

My husband and I had attended for different reasons – he to hear the fourth movement of Peer Gynt – In The Hall of the Mountain King, which was played with all of the dynamic drama expected of those famous passages dominated by a blend of pizzicato and driving strings.

I went along principally to hear Nimrod, part of the Enigma Variations, which somehow only seems to increase in emotional power, despite having been used and reused in multiple movies spanning the decades. As expected, it was a perfect, expressive performance by the RPO - made even more poignant by the pandemic-induced realisation that listening to these wonderful pieces in person is a privilege not to be taken for granted.

The musical line-up also included a stirring performance of Delius’ Irmelin Prelude as well as Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor.

Despite visiting the concert for other reasons, this violin concerto became an unexpected highlight, allowing me to witness for the first time the extraordinary talent of young violinist Irene Duval. This piece would put any violinist through his or her paces with its complexity, but Irene delivered every passage of music with great musicality, energetically conveying the mood and nuances of each moment.

This was an exceptional evening of music by the RPO and, thanks to the pandemic, it is one I certainly didn’t take for granted.

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