“One of the best solo live performances of the work I have ever heard….”

Herts Advertiser critic John Manning reviews a “superb” performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto by soloist Matthew Sharp, accompanied by praise for the whole orchestra and conductor Tom Hammond for their account of Walton’s First Symphony.

I have a feeling that the main reason many people attended Saturday’s concert at St Saviour’s Church in St Albans was to hear Matthew Sharp’s performance of Elgar’s wonderful Cello Concerto. If they did, then they were not disappointed, but they were also treated to a fine performance of works by the next great English composer to come along — William Walton.

There is no doubt that Matthew Sharp’s performance of the Elgar masterpiece was superb. He is a musician who knows exactly how long to hold note for maximum effect and his dynamics were outstanding.

In all it was one of the best solo live performances of the work I have ever heard. And the performance from the orchestra under conductor Tom Hammond was also of an extremely high standard with some particularly noteworthy work from the orchestra’s cello section.

The concerto was sandwiched between two of William Walton’s finest works, his well-known Crown Imperial first performed at the coronation of George VII in 1937 and his huge First Symphony. I must admit that the first time I heard the symphony more than 40 years ago I really didn’t like it, but tastes change and today I recognise it for what it is an outstanding piece of English music.

The symphony is heavy on brass and percussion, as well as demanding fine performances from individual orchestra members, but all involved gave of their best. It is a work full of surprises, sometimes almost cacophonic and sometimes beautiful, with quirky changes of templ and rapid movements in its dynamic range but overall it is powerful and absorbing.

Tom Hammond deserved every moment of the final applause for his skilled and exciting interpretation of the work. And the orchestra under guest leader Charlotte Fairburn demonstrated just how much it has improved over recent years. The horns, vital to the work, were great and the timpani and percussion were excellent.

Herts Advertiser: 12th March 2020