Rule Britannia

The following is reprinted with permission from the Tallahassee (FL) Democrat, 21 March 2005. Additions and corrections are in brackets.

It is a musical mystery: England produced no [concert music] composers of international renown between the death of Henry Purcell in 1695 and the emergence of Edward Elgar in the 1890s. There are undoubtedly many good reasons for this dearth, but the resurgence that began with Elgar has continued to this day.

The third concert of the Masterworks series of the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra consisted of pieces by three of England's greatest 20th-century composers: William Walton, Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

[Music] Director David Hoose and the orchestra began Saturday evening's concert with a spirited performance of Walton's coronation march, Crown Imperial. The orchestra's playing was crisp and lively, and Hoose's reading was well-paced and regal, with clearly etched phrases.

Britten's Peter Grimes is one of the towers of the operatic repertoire and the Four Sea Interludes the composer extracted from it are among his most popular and characteristic orchestral pieces.

The orchestra dove into the difficult work and delivered a taut and expressive performance. It was well-received by the audience, a testament to how far the orchestra has come under Hoose's leadership.

The orchestra is playing at, perhaps, its highest level ever, and the exciting programming of recent seasons is providing musical experiences that are rare in cities the size of Tallahassee.

The second half of the program was given over to a gripping reading of Vaughan Williams' strange and wonderful Sinfonia Antarctica, his seventh symphony. The Sinfonia was put together by the composer from music he had written for a film about the doomed Antarctic voyage of Robert Scott.

The Sinfonia is cast in five movements, each of which was accompanied by one or more quotations, either from Scott's journals or from literature. These quotations were provided to the audience or read by a narrator, Michael Richey in this performance.

I think the use of a narrator is essential to a good performance of this work because the descriptive texts act as a bridge from the music to the narrative. And this was a very fine performance, indeed.

The orchestra, with the help of wordless vocalises by soprano Cicily Nall and the FSU Women's Glee Club, brought out the awe and terror in this powerful piece.

[The dying away of the last chord was augmented by our old friend, the cell phone. Unless it was a reference to the famous last entry in Scott’s journal, "Can you hear me now?"]

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