★★★★☆ Brexit adds a touch of irony to a programme of fine French and British music.

Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
June 25, 2016

There was a touch of irony in this concert from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as we listened to this fine music from France and Britain. The Brexit vote had just come in, channel crossings indeed. British conductor, John Wilson, whose splendid film music programme had delighted us the week before, had turned his expert hand to another genre, Romantic music from France and England.

Bax’s wonderful tone poem Tintagel, which had not been heard here for five years, made a heady impression. The musical style of the work was a key influence in British documentary film music of the forties and fifties with its sweeping grandeur inspired by the coast of Cornwall and Tintagel castle. The contrast with Ravel’s delightful and quirky piano concerto was marked; played competently but without much style by Jonathon Biss; its tricky writing for wind and brass a trap for some players in the more exposed sections.

After the break came Vaughan William’s grand symphonic homage to his city of London, essaying its many moods and even using the risky musical device of the chimes of Big Ben, moving the listener briefly from the symphony’s imaginative world to the every day. I think the term used is musical tourism. In this instance it is an affectionate device and in no way diminishes the importance of the work. It was astonishing to discover that it had not been played here since 1991. Much the same can be said of many of the composer’s other big works. He is shamefully neglected.

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