Review: British pride rules San Antonio Symphony concert
By David Hendricks
Published 11:09 pm CST, Friday, March 1, 2019
If the San Antonio Symphony’s concert Friday night wasn’t the official “Last Night of the Proms” — the traditional summer concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall — it was a quite good and stirring facsimile of the fun event.
It was the first of a series of classical series concerts with international flavors, with Italy, Franceand Spain to follow in the coming weeks.
Friday, only the Beethoven Second Piano Concerto was not British, but the guest pianist was — the esteemed Stephen Hough.
Four British composers were featured with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Overture to “The Wasps,” William Walton’s “Crown Imperial March,” Gustav Holst’s choral “I Love My Love,” Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” and his “Pomp and Circumstance, March No. 1” with the symphony’s Mastersingers chorus.
The Beethoven concerto and “Enigma Variations” were the concert’s two centerpieces, the first displaying Hough’s tremendous keyboard skill and the second showcasing the orchestra’s virtuosity under Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing.
The orchestra was lush, polished and vigorous in “Enigma Variations.” Lang-Lessing stressed the dynamics in both volume and tempos throughout the work. The best-loved variation, “Nimrod,” was moving, being both a hymn of mourning and deeply felt English pride. The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts hall’s ribbon lights glowed red and blue accordingly.
Hough, widely recorded and awarded, performed for the first time in San Antonio on Friday. Hisinterpretation of the Beethoven Second Piano Concerto — it actually was the first composed — was studied and sophisticated. The magical moment came at the end of the slow movement, made to sound transcendental, as if reaching beyond reality. Just as rewarding was Hough’s amazing finger work in the finale. His technique was clean and fluid.
Hough’s encore was both English and dreamy, Eric Coates’ “By the Sleepy Lagoon.”
The rest of the concert was festive. Harrowing swarms of wasps could easily be heard in the Vaughan Williams overture, leading into an appealing English folk tune.
Walton’s brassy, noble “Crown Imperial March” seemed to stride right up the center aisle of Westminster Abbey, written for the 1937 coronation of King George VI. Holst’s choral song, “I Love My Love” was lovingly delivered by the Mastersingers offstage, as if singing to the audience of about 1,000 people from faraway England.
Finally came Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance, March No. 1,” known in the United States as the “graduation song.” But in Britain, it is regarded as an anthem. The Mastersingers filed down the hall’s orchestra-level aisles to sing the beloved “Land of Hope and Glory” lyrics, along with audience members, that has long inspired the Brits. The effect was spine-tingling.
Lang-Lessing then added a surprise orchestral-choral encore, one that is the highlight of every “Last Night of the Proms” concerts, Thomas Arne’s “Rule, Britannia!” also featuring the Mastersingers. The soloist singer in a red dress and sparkling crown was longtime Mastersingers member Gail Wettstein.
The only thing missing were waving Union Jacks (a few people waved them in a corner of the mezzanine) and silly hats. Still, it was a night for the Empire and the Tories among us.