Malcolm Rudland at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford QEH Monday 24th March 1997 - Oxford Orchestra da Camera/Rudland

For this culmination of our weekend Malcolm was justly in charge - a vigorous Warlockian figure, at first swinging and swaying on the rostrum, but gradually curbing his evident and understandable excitement - and never intrusive. But before we came to the music itself there was and interesting discussion between three eminent Bartók scholars

We have heard many accounts of Capriol, especially over the last few years, but my preference is always for the string version, perhaps because it comes closest to my own perception of the sixteenth century reinterpreted in 1925. The sweetness of Pieds-en-l'air was particularly pleasing after the crisply played Bransles and before a barnstorming Mattachins.

Is it eccentric to speak of the Divertimento as "middle-European" as opposed to the almost casual "Western" character of the first item? With its tensions and longing and despondency the Divertimento, despite its eighteenth century undertones, is a reflection of the tragic state of Europe in 1938, particularly that of Hungary itself.

Warlock's Serenade - a tribute to Delius - is not, and this is a personal view, one of his best works. I find much of the writing as turgid and trying as some of Delius's own and, while full tribute is paid to the dedicatee's harmonic flair, there is no hint of his mastery of design as in, say, Brigg Fair.

The best was kept until last: Music for strings, percussion and celeste. Conductor and orchestra rose wonderfully to this inspiring and noble music. The sinuous fugue theme - which reappears in other movements - was taken through its subtle workings to its climax, dying away to the miraculous unison ending of the two violins. The allegro, with its insistent minor third and colourful instrumentation (slapped strings, chromatic timpani and xylophone) was followed by that most curious night music which is the slow movement (string trills and glissandi, celeste). Thence to the rondo finale and another fugue. Mood changes abound until, just before the end, there is a most elegiac broadening of subject from the first movement.

All in all, this masterpiece of the twentieth century was interpreted with skill and passion. It was most fitting that, after the concert, Malcolm was presented with a Pro Cultura Hungarica medal by the Hungarian Chargé d'Affaires, Sándor Juhász; the occasion, coupled with Malcolm's half-Hungarian ancestry, moved him to offer a few words of thanks in his semi-native tongue.

Brian Hammond


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