Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Snow way were they missing it

Henley Symphony Orchestra at Christmas | Christ Church | Sunday, December 10

DOGGED determination and resilience overcame freezing conditions as children, parents, musicians and regular Henley Symphony Orchestra supporters defied the forces of nature in order not to miss the traditional Christmas concerts at Henley’s Christ Church Centre.

Conducted by Ian Brown and compèred by zany entertainer Andy Baker, the afternoon concert aims to introduce young children to live orchestral music. It was riotous fun. Tongue-twisting audience-participation tasks and the waving of bells were the order of the day as Baker put the adults and offspring through their paces, while HSO presented extracts from Arturo Marquez’s Mexican dances in Danzon 2, selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and the inevitable Jingle Bells and Anderson’s Sleigh Ride.

For the early evening family concert, the HSO were amazed to discover a packed house; Henley people really don’t let the weather get in their way! For their trouble they were immediately hit between the eyes by the full version of Danzon 2 — a
pot-pourri of slow, fast and manic Latin dance rhythms, in which the woodwind principals, brass, percussion and keyboard played key roles.

A complete contrast came in the form of Bach’s Suite No 3 in D. If there was any rationale behind this juxtaposition, it was, as Ian Brown put it, that the entire concert programme was based on dance in one form or another, spanning 400 years and multiple cultures.

Latin America and Germany gave way to two movements from Edvard Grieg’s Symphonic Dances, importing some Nordic imagery to the ice-bound evening, and where principal oboe Jasmine Huxtable-Wright enjoyed a prominent part. Here, as earlier in Danzon 2, her beautifully phrased solo lines and woody timbre melded perfectly.

Musical proceedings were put on temporary hold as Davy Snowdon, HSO’s principal sponsor, conducted the raffle in aid of the brain injury charity, Headway Thames Valley.

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite was a great opportunity for HSO’s flutes, horns and harp, who all rose magnificently to the occasion, while the strings vibrated to their hearts’ content in the final uplifting waltz.

If the Marquez was a jolt to the senses it paled into insignificance against Ginastera’s ferocious Malambo, a peculiar native Argentinian dance originating in the Pampas around the year 1600 and executed by men only; it was the subject of fierce competition between gaucho dancers.

Highly percussive, interspersed with rhythmic fanfares from horns and trumpets and backed by a wild percussion section, it brought the house down.

But seasonally, nothing could round things off more fittingly than Sleigh Ride — the most evocative of Christmas soundscapes and the ideal complement to an early white Christmas!

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