Look out for the Philharmonia at Cutty Sark on Apple Music

Oliver Zeffman conducted the Philharmonia and mezzo Dame Sarah Connolly in a filmed performance destined for streaming platforms last night, concluding the ‘Music x Museums’ series underneath the hull of the Cutty Sark in Greenwich.

The performance was part of a series of live recordings released on Apple Music (to watch and listen to) and eventually to stream on Spotify too.

Acoustically the 19th-century tea clipper now homed in Greenwich didn’t disappoint. The polished hull cut an impressive line through the narrow audience space underneath which members of the Philharmonia charted a course through evocative music by Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and Grace Williams.

I’m noticing more and more outings for the Sea Sketches in recent years. I see a link to the work of Dr Sophie Fuller from Trinity Laban a few years back who I spoke to about the Venus Rising project back in 2018 (listen to the podcast interview with Dr Sophie Fuller on Anchor).

I had assumed it was because of Venus Rising and similar projects that Williams ravishing score for string ensemble was seeing more light. What I discovered last night browsing through the first Proms brochure I bought back in 1991, was that Williams Sea Sketches was performed back in the year I first went to the Proms – the first time it appeared at the festival, forty-five years after it was written.

A pupil of Vaughan Williams, Williams score has a distinctive musical language setting her apart from the folk tune-infused music of her teacher. There are some beautifully heart-tuggingly lush sequences in Calm Sea in Summer that hint at the music of Peter Warlock and even reference bits of Britten’s language too.

Dame Sarah Connolly shimmered in a scaly dress made up of coral blues and greens (that’s about as far as this privileged white middle-aged male is going to go in describing an outfit) during Elgar’s Sea Pictures, gracefully riding the waves in Elgar’s sonorous score. I’ve been listening to Sea Pictures on repeat all day since.

The Cutty Sark is a surprisingly good venue, somewhere that has a considerable impact on arrival, and is served by attentive bar staff. Acoustically it works too. And whilst I know this was an event for filming purposes with supporting organisation Viking Cruises necessarily selling their wares, I’m wondering why the venue isn’t used more for live events, especially if seating could be made available at the elevated side positions too.

Keep an eye out on Apple Music for the performance in full. Music x Museum’s previous performance at the V&A with Victoria Mullova is available to watch and listen to now.

đź“· Matthew Johnson

London Chamber Orchestra with Oliver Zeffman

London Chamber Orchestra plays Waley-Cohen, Mozart and Sibelius at Cadogan Hall

Technically speaking, this isn’t a concert review. Some of the experience was hampered by my unpredictable and still hacking cough, meaning I needed to duck out of the concert temporarily. Never have I been forced to leave auditorium quite so soon after a much-anticipated Concerto performance began, nor received such a clear signal so swiftly to do so as I did from the curmudgeonly audience member sat beside me.

So I ended up spending 30 minutes listening to George Li play Mozart 23 via the Cadogan Hall foyer monitors, clear enough to hear some moments of mildly disappointing intonation from the woodwind in the second and third movements; denied the opportunity to languish in LCO’s efficient lush string sound. Li’s encore (I forget what it was – Chopin?) was spectacular, prompting those of us in the foyer to lean in, focus and take a much needed moment to pause and reflect. Electrifying stuff.

Once a number of Strepsils had been administered I rejoined my plus one Lorna at the back of the auditorium for the second half performance of Sibelius’ 3rd.

Neither of us had heard it before. For Lorna it was only the second or third time at a classical music concert.

The back seat of the stalls isn’t a bad place to listen. The balcony overhang creates a cosy feel but doesn’t affect the acoustic adversely. The LCO played with spirit, enviable precision, warmth and ebullience – it makes a massive difference to me to see musicians visibly enjoying what they’re playing. Great energy exuded from the stage creating three movements of wonder and delight. I was transfixed.

The second movement in particular had a tenderness about it that was both playful and maybe even flirtatious. The gentle syncopation gave things a flirtatious feel. Deft. Listening back to Bernstein’s recording with the New York Philharmonic, it is the gentler pace adopted by conductor Oliver Zeffman with the LCO this week that I respond to more immediately. There was lift and drive, but a genteel kind of pace that created an appealing whole.

Word too on Zeffman whose generous confident conducting style seemed to draw out key musical lines throughout the concert, empowering musicians to shine. Sometimes I wanted him to take his time walking onto the stage in order to establish a more assertive presence when facing the audience. But there is a charming enthusiasm and pride in his work and the band he conducts. A strong horn section drove the Sibelius forward in the moments it needed it.

Freya Waley-Cohen’s UK premiere of Changeling displayed some enviable melodic lines for bass clarinet and violin, spikey string sequences, and enticing atmospheric scenes full of mystery and portent. A busy week for Waley-Cohen too – present at Cadogan Hall on Tuesday and at Wigmore Hall for a premiere the following day.

London Chamber Orchestra are back at Cadogan Hall on 9 February and 25 March 2020. They appear at St John’s Smith Square on 6 May 2020. They are heartily recommended.