Oxford Philomusica, November 4th 2005

Oxford Philomusica Sheldonian Theatre

Friday November 4th, 2005

Oxford Philomusica kicked off their new season in emphatic style last weekend with a programme that neatly paired two of Britain’s foremost composers – William Walton and Edward Elgar. Perhaps in anticipation of next year’s punishing schedule, regular maestro Marios Papadopoulos sat this one out, leaving the baton wielding to veteran conductor Vernon Handley.

First up was Walton’s highly passionate Violin Concerto, handled with immense skill by Thomas Bowes. This is a work that Bowes has virtually made his own. He discovered the piece as a teenager, and later, at the invitation of Lady Walton, visited the Mediterranean resort of Ischia, where the work was written. The result is an extraordinary fusion of the player and the music, in which Bowes seems to engage totally with the composer’s emotions and intentions. The first movement was realised with an almost unbearable intensity; the second with playful flirtatiousness; the third with an understanding of the Mediterranean atmosphere that moved the composer to such lyrical beauty. And all this was combined with Bowes’s own musicianship, technical mastery and tonal purity to produce a performance of rare quality.

Anything that followed could have been an anticlimax, but with Elgar on the menu such a possibility was quickly erased. His Enigma Variations never fail to entertain, and the orchestra clearly relished the humour, the passion and the vigour of this wonderful work. As always, the players performed with that impenetrable bond that comes from working together on a regular basis, and their account of the piece was infused with poise, charm and warmth. Handley held all together with customary authority, while renowned broadcaster Humphrey Burton entertained with his informative introductions to each piece.

This concert showed the Philomusica to be in great shape, and clearly ready for the challenges that await them in next year’s Mozart festival.

Nicola Lisle