Last night I went to see the Hallé perform at Leeds Town Hall as part of the Leeds International Orchestral Season 2010/11. The programme was an interesting mix of Verdi, Mozart and Elgar, and I was particularly looking forward to hearing Martin Helmchen playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto no 17 in G. I didn’t know this work very well, but was amused to read that Mozart himself described it as being “written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why.” A catchy number, then. And so it proved; we enjoyed Hemchen’s performance enormously.
Yet quite unexpectedly, it was the Elgar which moved me most last night. Elgar wrote his great first symphony at the age of 50; something of a contrast to Mozart’s precocity. The symphony met with great acclaim at its London premiere in 1908, with people standing on their seats to applaud. And even if I had not read in the programme notes that it is regarded by many as a secular requiem for Edwardian England, I would have still felt the painfulness in the recurring theme: almost a metaphor for a very English sort of Englishness, lost for ever in the aftermath of WWI. Coincidentally, I had just finished reading whilst away To Serve Them All My Days by R F Delderfield, and so had spent a fair amount of time recently reflecting on bygone ages, and the cataclysmic effect of great change in society.
On listening to the Elgar, it was impossible not to drift into a past I had never known but could still sense in some way through the music, and I felt very emotional. I found my response all rather strange; I often feel that I don’t really like English classical music very much because it’s too “English” for me. But here, the very Englishness of it all was precisely what caught me. Maybe it’s an age thing. I don’t know, but I think it’s good that the Hallé opened my ears last night.