Music: Orchestra of St John's St John's Smith Square, London
Performing music involves, one imagines, an opposite experience to duller pursuits, like writing about it. Critics get the chance to polish their gems of perception; performers must either grasp the inner mood of a work immediately or, having missed the point, be content with merely fumbling for the notes.

Especially testing in this way are the Introduction and Allegro by Elgar and The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams. It becomes apparent, from their very first bars, if a reading is going to ride the wave of Elgarian energy or find a place among the Cotswold hills. For the Orchestra and Chorus of St John's Smith Square, performing "at home" on Tuesday, it was almost reckless to include both pieces in a programme that also featured a rarity, the Delius Double Concerto, Ravel's Tzigane and a late choral item, La Nuit Op 114, by Camille Saint-Saens. Well, the evening's theme was billed as "Delius and his contemporaries". Even so, would you catch any of the major orchestras taking such risks?

Which is not to underrate the Orchestra of St John's, you understand, but meant by way of a compliment. Now in their 30th anniversary season, they were up to it, no problem, with the irrepressible Tasmin Little to encourage them in their task. Conductor John Lubbock's Elgar was a serviceable opener, though fidelity to the composer's tempi would have guaranteed more bounce. But in The Lark Ascending, Little, who dresses as persuasively as she plays, first softened the audience with a reading of poor, neglected Meredith's poem, then launched on her pastoral journey with a solo of flowing emotion that caught at once the glowing inner vision.

This was, after all, her series (Tuesday's concert being the last of three with the band). To end it, she had the chance to play Tzigane, the first time ever she'd tried this box of violinistic tricks with orchestra, and with such success that the fizzier parts received an encore. And the Choir of St John's must have had their say in choosing La Nuit: a charming 15 minutes of fine French sensibility, for women's voices, finely sung.

But the evening's high point was the Delius Double Concerto, played intimately, searchingly by Tasmin Little and cellist Raphael Wallfisch. Often, he soared in arching melodies, brocaded with violin triplets in decorative leaps and runs. The opening theme could have been more gravely paced; for its final return, marked Tempo primo, the ensemble correctly chose more sombre measures. None the less, these two artists, with fervent orchestral support, stalked the soul of this lovely work with unerring skill. After many pleasing twists, they found it in the quiet central interlude, proclaiming their presence in resonant octaves against murmuring harp and oboe.

Nicholas Williams

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