Thursday, 18 August 2022

Concert was a dream ticket

WEST Forest Sinfonia’s 2015-2016 season opened in style under principal conductor Philip Ellis, and led by Giles Wade.

WEST Forest Sinfonia’s 2015-2016 season opened in style under principal conductor Philip Ellis, and led by Giles Wade.

The programme, strong on audience appeal, comprised Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier Suite, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D and Elgar’s Symphony No. 1.

Among amateur orchestras it is rare to find one of such calibre, presumably the result of an invitation-only membership policy.

This enables a level of quality control to be achieved, consistent with West Forest’s remit of “giving concerts of professional quality, drawing its membership from the extraordinary pool of talent that exists in Berkshire and adjacent counties”.

This is no overstatement, as evidenced by this concert. There were no weaknesses anywhere in its line-up.

The strings in particular, though bordering on chamber proportions, had sufficient strength in depth to complement the formidable array of brass.

The chosen pieces were a dream ticket. For the audience, hugely romantic and accessible, with sumptuous scoring that filled the hall’s sympathetic acoustic. For the players, a musician’s gift — technical challenges notwithstanding.

Rosenkavalier was a romp from beginning to end, excellently led by Wade and tightly controlled by Ellis.

There was no hint of a struggle with the piece’s virtuoso demands, as the players milked the ravishing material at their disposal.

Whilst specific moments are difficult to pinpoint, the calmer parts of the score, where the principal violin doubled the woodwind melody, were particularly poignant. And the main waltzes were sheer joy.

In short, Strauss’s trademark orchestration simply enveloped all involved, culminating in a magnificent apotheosis.

Sarah Sew, soloist in Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto and a product of Berkshire Maestros, showed a formidable technique, an earthy tone and a sense of tempo that made her intentions crystal clear.

There were fine duets between first flute and soloist, a not too hurried canzonetta, and a brilliant transition into the finale, where Sew left the starting blocks with machine-gun precision.

Matching her technique was a convincing account of the music, with subtle phrasing and sensitively paced rubatos. And she could, when required, extract a ferociously raw tone from high on the G string.

There could hardly be a better second half than an Elgar symphony, and No. 1 is up there with the best. From the majestically declaimed opening subject it was clear we were in for a treat. Philip Ellis had it just about right and made satisfying sense of all four movements.

The next concert at the same venue is on Sunday, January 31 — a programme of Brahms, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn. For details, see

Review: Trevor Howell

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