Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Orchestra summons up the best of British

HENLEY Symphony Orchestra’s concert under canvas at Shiplake College, conducted by Ian Brown, risked being dampened by dark

HENLEY Symphony Orchestra’s concert under canvas at Shiplake College, conducted by Ian Brown, risked being dampened by dark clouds, but a benign deity took pity and some eleventh-hour sunshine put an optimistic gleam into the bottles of champagne and Cava from the hampers of some 400 Henley residents who had arrived for the pre-concert ritual of strawberries and cream.

If the programme looked over-British and too well worn, any doubts were dispelled by a spirited rendition of Coates’s

The Merrymakers — Miniature Overture
and Elgar’s arrangement of Bach’s

Fantasia & Fugue in C Minor

The latter offered the best of both composers’ worlds, with Bach’s intricate harmonies and fugues enhanced by Elgar’s rich orchestration.

The fantasia was fluidly played at a satisfying speed, with the added impetus of an incessant drum beat, while the fugue drew great commitment from every section of the orchestra.

The wonderful rising chromatic theme was brought out incisively by all, while the cellos and basses produced a sumptuous bass line.


Brigg Fair
was a dreamy affair, rendering any over-enthusiastic pre-concert tipplers comatose in seconds. It gave a great platform to the flutes and oboes. Jasmine Huxtable-Wright’s excellent final oboe solo carried beautifully in the limited canvas acoustic.

There was a crispness about the playing and some excellent choices of tempo in Elgar’s

Pomp and Circumstance Marches 1 and 4
, which gave them new life.

Our Britishness was re-affirmed, and one suspects that even the non-British amongst us might have started to go native at the edges.

Heightened patriotism received another fillip after the break with Sullivan’s overture to

The Yeomen of the Guard
, which presented some challenges, especially to the first violins.

A greater test still was Bax’s

. Easier to listen to than to play, it came across extremely well. Brass and horns were stretched to lung-bursting point as huge crescendos mimicked the crashing waves.

Some respite came in Coates’s

By the Sleepy Lagoon
, allowing the violins the chance to relax and express themselves satisfyingly in the main theme.

Orb and Sceptre by Walton was the gilt on the patriotic gingerbread, bringing the evening to a stirring close.

HSO’s next event is Ian Brown’s 70th birthday concert in the Hexagon, Reading, on Saturday, November 7. Weber, Beethoven’s first piano concerto and Sibelius’s second symphony are great choices for this exceptionally gifted musician.

Review: Trevor Howell

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