Out of a cataclysm at the Assembly Hall came forth a flower in full bloom and other individual buds destined to open later in December and January. Young International star Nicola Benedetti found herself in the US making her New York Philharmonic concerto debut and three subsequent dates last week, playing Szymanovsky, instead of in Worthing, playing Beethoven. But while The New York Times spoke of her “pure and gleaming” sound and “soaring luminous grace”, in place of that, for Worthing Symphony Orchestra fans, came significant consolations.
Firstly, her handsome messenger and consort came to play a concerto in her place. Secondly, news of her return with a personal Christmas gift for her devotees who had bought tickets for Sunday. Then thirdly, the bonus coup of one of her successors, this month’s new BBC Young Musician of the Year, to perform here in January. And Benedetti was already scheduled to play the Brahms Concerto with the WSO on June 7 next year.
On Sunday, it was to be the WSO concert of the season and its climax, with John Gibbons due to conduct Scottish/Italian violinist Benedetti, German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and Russian pianist Alexei Grynyuk in a rare concert performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. Two years ago, the trio had sold out their solo Cadogan Hall BBC Prom on the first morning of bookings.
A week before the Worthing appearance in the Triple Concerto, Benedetti MBE, 26, was in a turmoil of loyalty and ambition. A statement from Emblem Artists Management read: “Nicola has been asked by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowksi to step in at very short notice to replace the indisposed Janine Jansen and, as a young artist developing her international career, this is an opportunity that understandably Nicola has to consider.
“Many of you have watched Nicola grow over the last 10 years and the WSO audience and its audience have had a crucial part to play in her development. Nicola values her relationship with Worthing enormously and we are extremely grateful to Leonard Elschenbroich who will step in for Nicola this Sunday.’
Elschenbroich came to play Elgar’s Cello Concerto – ironically the piece the suddenly-retired Julian Lloyd Webber cannot now play with WSO in their Chichester Festivities debut on July 11 in the Cathedral, where Emma Johnson will deputise with Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.
Gibbons confessed there was no way of getting Benedetti home in time to play at Worthing after her four stateside appearances. He stated: “Like everyone else, I am disappointed that we will not be able to enjoy Nicola’s outstanding musicianship. The orchestra and I relish the chance to work with her but appreciate how important the New York engagement is in the grand scheme of things.
“We are excited to be working with Leonard again. He is a BBC Young Generation Artiste and has played concertos live on Radio 3 many times over the last two years to great acclaim. On August 14 he makes his BBC Prom solo debut playing Oration by Frank Bridge. He is undoubtedly one of the great cellists of the younger generation on the international scene today.”
Few people came to Sunday’s concert unaware of the bombshell. Worthing Borough Council Theatres department had immediately emailed and Royal Mailed the news (and these quotes) to the ticket buyers offering then a refund or the chance not only to attend the concert featuring Elschenbroich instead, but apply to take up the same seats free of charge to hear Benedetti and Grynyuk play a Violin and Piano Concert at the Assembly Hall on December 16 (6.30pm).
Of 676 tickets sold, 43 were returned. And by Monday, 235 tickets for duo concert had been taken up.
Benedetti is president of the Worthing Symphony Society supports group. Gibbons waited in the Assembly Hall foyer to meet ticket buyers unaware of the news, then before Beethoven’s Egmont, told the whole story to the audience from the moment when, he said: “Nicola rang me in tears to tell me, and I almost was into tears, too.”
He then went on to announce, just as with cellist Laura van der Heijden two years ago, he had signed up the new BBC Young Musician of the Year, Martin James Bartlett. The 17-year-old pianist, who is into the Beach Boys as well as bassoon, recorder (both grade 8), Tchaikovsky’s 5th and Verdi’s Tosca, will play Mozart’s D minor Concerto K466 in the WSO 2015 New Year Concert on January 4.
After an athletically explosive Egmont, Elschenbroich ended, for a string player, a hazardously hot half-hour on stage in a literal shaft of sunlight to take full salute after his Teutonic take on Elgar. He gave this work two Remembrance Sundays ago, when he then watched with the audience sobering film footage of the World War 1 trench warfare. Elgar’s post-WW1 music here looks back at a lost way of life. Germans, too, lost theirs.
Elschenbroich, tall, dark, had then given a searing and intense account of the music’s expression of loss and grief. Countryman Elgar, writing the concerto near Fittleworth as well as in London, grieved almost as much for the equine WW1 dead as the human. This time, Elschenbroich, who was applauded onto the stage also by the orchestra, reached in deeper still at certain moments and displayed yet more strongly a proportionate and assured sense of the Concerto’s overall canvas, its emotional journey and the reach of its drama.
The slow music in the first and third movements was given its weight of loss, regret and the sadness of evening, without indulgence. The scherzo mercurially evoked the fleetness of relished then lost youth, and the adult Elgarian ‘japes’ and drollery of the finale carried the determination of one trying desperately not to contemplate the ebbing away of mid-life in a world forever changed.
On his Mateo Goffriller “Leonard Rose” cello, the tone of Elschenbroich’s opening solo cadenza was throaty and dark as a coastguard warning of an approaching storm. On its last return, now a closing recitative, we were shown the abyss itself. Then his last surviving friends, the orchestra, gruffly snatched the sufferer away from the precipice.
Principal flute Monica McCarron, the WSO’s golden bird, aroused the senses rather differently in Fauré’s familiarly languid Pavane, and first horn Dave Lee took forward the second tune with his trademark firm assurance. McCarron afterwards flew to Sweden to lead the flutes in the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra.
Then chief oboe Chris O’Neal, who also stars with the London Mozart Players, and who took his wife and two young children to Worthing beach between the rehearsal and performance, cast for us Bizet’s sultrily exotic evening spell in the slow movement of his Symphony in C. O’Neal studied under Heinz Holliger – hence his rich smoothness of line and tone.
In this piece, Bizet, just 17, is already pouring pre-Carmen champagne, anticipating in spirit Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony by 62 years, and toasting tenfold Haydn’s genius and fun. And throughout the dashing finale, the WSO were popping their own bubbly before the almost throwaway final chords − after which Gibbons naturally had each section on their feet to take their season’s cheers of gratitude.
July 11: WSO at Chichester Cathedral, Emma Johnson’s Mozart Clarinet Concerto, more Gibbons’ Elgar (Enigma Variations) and Shostakovich’s Festival Overture. Tickets: 01243 813595 or www.chichestertickets.co.uk
WSO Season dates: September 14, October 12, November 9 (Poom Prommachart, piano), January 4 (Martin James Bartlett, piano), February 15 (Arta Arnicane, piano), March 8 (Laura van der Heijden, cello), June 7 (Nicola Benedetti, Brahms, violin). Tickets (season tickets add up to 8 concerts for the price of 5): 01903 206206 or www.worthingtheatres.co.uk
Sussex International Piano Competition Final: April 19.
September 12: Concert of Brighton-connected chamber music from Strings Attached at The Old Market, Hove – The Cavalieri Quartet play string quartets by Vaughan Williams No 2, Jonathan Harvey No 3, and Frank Bridge No 3. Tickets: one price, (free for Under-26s) 01273 201800 or www.theoldmarket.com
Interview Concerts by finalists of Sussex International Piano Competition at The Denton, Worthing Pier (7.15pm). Tickets: 01903 206206 −
October 2: Olga Stezhko (Belarus); programme to be confirmed.
November 20: Jessica Zhu (USA); Debussy and Chopin.