SHAKESPEARE AND ENGLAND
Essex Symphony Orchestra at Christ Church, Chelmsford
Shakespeare in Victorian costume made up the first half of this attractive programme.
The revelation, for many, was Sullivan's atmospheric Overture to Macbeth, written for Irving's production at the Lyceum, which boasted a pit band of 46 players, including two harpists.
A slightly larger ESO gave an excellent account of this score, which, at its opening, owes much to Mendelssohn, the ghost at this musical feast. Scurrying strings over woodwind led us delightfully to the dramatic conclusion. Stirring stuff, bracketed by two favourites: Nicolai's Merry Wives Overture, with misterioso moonlight over Windsor Forest, fairies and fireflies, before the glorious sunny theme which never appears in the opera itself. And Tchaikowsky's Romeo and Juliet – sterling work from brooding lower strings, and oboe and violas suggesting the tenderness and passion of Romeo's young love.
After the interval, Edward Elgar. Not, alas, his Falstaff, but the more familiar Enigma Variations, witty, affectionate portraits of his friends, splendidly interpreted here by the orchestra, led by Philippa Barton and conducted by Tom Hammond. Variation III had bags of character, and if the gossamer lightness of Dorabella proved elusive, the noble emotions of Nimrod were powerfully suggested, with the melody polished smooth by subtle legato.