Saturday, 18 September 2021

Bassoons came into their own for 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'

Henley Symphony Orchestra | Shiplake College | Sunday, June 25

ON Sunday the Henley Symphony Orchestra in its full strength of some 70 musicians gave its customary summer concert in the marquee in the grounds of Shiplake College.

It was enjoyed by a packed audience who had come prepared for a picnic in the windy but otherwise clement weather.

The concert began with two programme works, Malcolm Arnold’s 1955 interpretation of Robbie Burns’s poem Tam o’ Shanter.

Conductor Ian Brown introduced the work, telling the story of Tam in his own inimitable way, of the drunken Scot, convincingly depicted by the two bassoons, meeting up with a coven of witches.

Tam is pursued after he has revealed himself by cheering on one of the young and beautiful dancers (“Well done, Cutty Sark”) and was only saved by his horse who made for water (which, you will recall, witches cannot cross) but who nonetheless lost his tail. All highly entertaining.

This was followed by Paul Dukas’s well-loved musical setting of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice — a German folk tale from Goethe which many will remember from the Disney version, Fantasia (1940), with Mickey Mouse as the hapless apprentice.

He uses his master’s spell book to bewitch a broom to fetch water, which it does with such alacrity, even when cut in pieces, that the house is soon flooded and the apprentice has to face the wrath of the returning sorcerer.

The two bassoons again came to the fore with a galloping theme as the magic begins to work and the orchestra developed the chaos which subsequently ensued.

The first half ended with Gerald Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto of 1955 played by the distinguished clarinettist, Richard Hosford.

This seldom-heard work for string orchestra and soloist seems to reflect the English countryside and its gentle melancholy, interposed with vigorous episodes, and deserves to be better known — as do more of Finzi’s relatively slender orchestral output.

The orchestral passages beautifully complemented the soloist, and this performance was dedicated to the memory of Colin Grayer, a former principal clarinet with HSO.

After the interval followed two more lively works. Dvorak’s Symphonic Variations are based on a song tune — “The Fiddler” — which supplies the theme and is followed by 27 short variations and a final fugue, giving ample scope for a wide range of orchestration and the use of all sections of the orchestra in various combinations.

Finally came Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, one of many works by foreign composers in the Spanish idiom.

After a lively alborado to greet the dawn came the lovely lento, gypsy scene, a second alborado and a final vigorous fandango.

This work gave ample scope for orchestral solos on clarinet, flute, four horns, cor anglais and violin (by leader David Burton), illustrating the talent which the orchestra brings to Henley, and which brought the concert to a triumphant conclusion and well-deserved applause.

May this summer picnic concert tradition long continue.


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