Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Impeccable performance that was disciplined from the start

WEST Forest Sinfonia embrace ambition, and Sunday’s opening concert of their 30th season was no exception.

WEST Forest Sinfonia embrace ambition, and Sunday’s opening concert of their 30th season was no exception.

The programme, confessed conductor Philip Ellis, was more an assembly of the orchestra’s favourites than a themed affair.

Yet, despite the implied randomness, it did have cohesion, the first half pairing Stravinsky’s neoclassical Symphony in Three Movements with Three Orchestral Songs by French composer Duparc; the second, Mozart’s classical Symphony No. 38 (Prague) with Debussy’s La Mer. It also benefited from the hall’s warm acoustic.

Stravinsky was the big test. With this composer, every instrumentalist is focused on constantly changing time signatures, a counting challenge that can easily side-line the “music”.

This the orchestra managed creditably, each section keeping tightly together, especially the horns in the first movement and opening of the second. Piano, woodwind, cellos and violins came to the fore impressively in the third movement’s fugue. Overall, the players succeeded in transcending the work’s mechanical complexity to convey its main musical sense and direction.

Duparc’s late 19th century songs were delightfully French, full of sensuality and romantic outpourings. Soprano soloist Louise Turner had the appropriate Gallic timbre in her lower notes, contrasted with some beautifully clear climaxes in the higher register.

There was a graceful harp and flute ending to the first song and a gorgeous orchestral ending to the second.

Mozart’s symphony was clean and crisp and employed satisfying tempi, never over-rushed. The balance was excellent throughout, and real power was produced when ordered, especially in the first movement.

The slow movement was well controlled and treated with discretion and sensitivity. The third movement was vibrant and succinct, the wind excelling with their impressively accurate ensemble.

Debussy’s La Mer, another formidable trial of technique, ended the concert. The character of the sea was vividly communicated throughout, especially in the last movement, where wind and waves were clearly heard battling it out.

Excellent woodwind solos abounded and every quartet in the orchestra, whether horns, wind, brass or strings, played with impeccable unanimity. The closing climax, with brass and timpani at full stretch, was fabulous. Such accomplished musicians straddle the grey line between amateur and professional, while erring on the side of the latter. The standard is set from the podium by the outstanding Philip Ellis and from the leader’s chair by the accomplished Giles Wade.

Their next concert in the Great Hall is on January 29, 2017, an English menu of Holst, Howells, Vaughan Williams and Bax.

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