The concert opened with the overture to the opera ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’, based on the Shakespeare play in which Falstaff finds out what happens to men who try to get off with more than one woman at a time. The German composer Otto Nikolai got an amazingly English feel into the music, which starts quietly but gets rambunctious, and the orchestra entered into the spirit of it.
Then came the Brahms violin concerto, with soloist Ren Jian, who ably expressed its various moods, starting with a first movement which varied from lyrical to dramatic. I felt he showed to the best advantage in the slow second movement, with a beautiful purity of tone. The last movement ends the piece with rejoicing. The audience loved this piece and called Ren Jian back again and again, until he played a Bach solo as an encore.
Another Shakespeare-inspired composition, two extracts from Mendelssohn’s music to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, began the second half. The peaceful ‘Nocturne’ seemed to indicate a period of rest before all the uproar started again. Then followed the well-known celebratory ‘Wedding March’.
The last piece was Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations’. There is no definite answer to the enigma, but we do know the identities of the friends Elgar depicted in each variation on his musical theme. In some of them, there is a feature that is interpreted in sound, like an instrument played by the friend, or a stutter. In others, the variation expresses the friend’s character more directly. This is especially true of the most famous of the variations, “Nimrod”, often played by itself. This represents a friend who encouraged Elgar to go on composing when he had hit a low point, and it gives a feeling of supportive strength at a sad time.
The orchestra did Elgar credit, and the audience went home happy.