This inspired coupling of two works was grippingly performed. One written shortly before the First World War, the other shortly before the Second, both reflect their fractured, uncertain times while remaining uniquely personal.
When writing the second movement of his Piano Concerto in 1938 Britten said “war within a month at least...end of Concerto, friends, work, love”.
Kathryn Stott played the Concerto’s fiendishly difficult piano part with precision, brilliance and a deep understanding of 20th century ensemble music. The work is also, effectively, a concerto for orchestra. Together, soloist and orchestra conjured all its satire, burlesque, mockery, and hints of Ravel, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Stott’s first movement cadenza and David Aspin’s frighteningly grotesque second movement viola solo were tours de force.
Perhaps this great work is so rarely played because it requires musicians of the calibre of Kathryn Stott, the Opera North Orchestra and their Music Director Richard Farnes – a combination that few could match and none could surpass.
Farnes and his Orchestra have a way with anything such as Elgar’s familiar Second Symphony of 1911 – which in lesser hands tends to collapse into sentimental kitsch – and revealed what Elgar’s biographer Michael Kennedy called its “sinister and weird spirit” in a profound performance that yielded moments which were exquisite beyond words.