Saturday, 16 December 2017
THE Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra billed this event, Twitter hashtag-style, as their “#APOmax concert” — half the programme being devoted to works by the Cardiff-based composer Max Charles Davies.
The programme duly began with a performance of his Tiny Symphony, a charming portrait of the composer’s two-year-old son in which the four movements of a neo-classical symphony are crammed into a mere six minutes.
The composer took a bow to an appreciative audience and discussed with the maestro, Andrew Taylor, his approach to seeking musical inspiration.
The second item on the programme, Carl Nielsen’s energetic and fascinating flute concerto, places great demands on the soloist.
Nielsen has the extraordinary capability to switch naturally from high drama to tender lyricism in an instant — a technique he employs frequently in this concerto to stunning effect.
The flautist Nicola Loten was well up to the challenge and the orchestra was no bystander in this show of pyrotechnics.
In particular the first clarinettist, Sarah Barrett, was engaged in several demanding duels with the solo flautist and they matched each other to perfection.
Wickedly, Nielsen also calls upon the bass trombone to enter the fray as a soloist. The trombonist, Nigel Smith, should be congratulated on not making a parody of the sliding effect at the end of the concerto. He slid with dignity.
Loten, after acknowledging her well-deserved applause, returned to the platform and ostensibly started to play an encore — but after a minute or so the conductor, Andrew Taylor, turned to the orchestra and unexpectedly brought in the strings.
It transpired that Nicola’s “encore” was actually the start of the next item on the programme! The Way of Things, scored for full orchestra plus a significant part for an anvil, was commissioned by the APO from Max Charles Davies and this was its debut.
The brief had been to “write a piece of music linked to Reading, Berkshire”. The composer took his inspiration from the history of the town and came up with six movements depicting its origins: two times of war, construction of the Abbey, local industries and, finally, a reflection on modern life.
It would appear that Reading has had a very turbulent history! The work was also technically very demanding and, at one point towards its end, appeared to represent the descent into chaos.
The final work in the programme was Tchaikovsky’s first symphony, subtitled “Winter Dreams”. This was given a very straightforward and satisfying performance in which the strings in particular demonstrated superb control of dynamic range, their pianissimos being exceptionally effective and well controlled.
The oboe solo in the Adagio Cantabile, played by Michael Rowley, was a highlight of the evening. His beautiful, even tone, depicting “Land of Desolation, Land of Mists” was heart-rending.
At the end of what had been an exceptionally demanding concert for them, the orchestra found enough fuel left in the tank to give a sprightly performance of the symphony’s Scherzo and a robust account of its rousing Finale.
30 January 2017
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