Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Birthday’s happy for all present

MEMBERS of Henley Symphony Orchestra are marking a double anniversary: the esteemed pianist and conductor Ian

MEMBERS of Henley Symphony Orchestra are marking a double anniversary: the esteemed pianist and conductor Ian Brown has notched up 20 years as the orchestra’s musical director, while he also celebrates his 70th birthday this year.

Sunday’s concert at the Hexagon was a tribute to both milestones.

Ian, as long-time pianist with the Nash Ensemble, became the orchestra soloist in the first half of the concert, which was conducted by Christopher Walker, and began with a rousing performance of Weber’s overture to his opera Der Freischütz.

Beethoven’s Piano Concert No 1 then followed — this relatively early work by the composer seems, compared to later works, to be quite understated in style.

Ian Brown’s subtle interpretation demanded a disciplined Classical performance, not easy to coax from such large symphonic forces.

However, the Henley players were determined to partner their long-time conductor with real musicianship, creating a perfect balance. The concerto built up from its quiet, Classical foundation of the first movement to the exuberance of the finale, providing a fitting showcase to both soloist and orchestra.

Instead of the usual token of wine or flowers, Ian was presented with a remarkable birthday cake completely fitting to the occasion and quite befitting a Bake Off challenge.

Crafted by a member of the orchestra, complete with a striking black grand piano and white podium decked with 70 candles, the appearance of the cake was accompanied by a surprise rendition by the orchestra of Greeting Prelude composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1955 on the occasion of the 80th birthday of the conductor Pierre Monteux — a witty pastiche on the usual Happy Birthday tune.

In the second half of the concert, Ian Brown resumed his usual role as orchestra conductor, for Sibelius’s Symphony No 2 in D major.

This intense, nationalistic work by the brooding Finnish composer, written more than 100 years after the Beethoven concerto, stood in complete contrast to the other works in the evening’s programme.

The full force of the HSO could really come into its own, with strong, rhythmic pulsating string sections — as well as controlled pizzicato passages — all tightly produced and underpinning the distinctive Sibelius sound- world.

Interspersed were excellent woodwind interpolations, with powerful brass and timpani contributions adding to the intensity of Sibelius’s musical vision.

The choice of Sibelius truly showed off the talents of Henley’s local symphony orchestra.

The orchestra’s next appearance will be at Christ Church, Henley, on Sunday, December 13, at 6.30pm, with a family Christmas programme including short works and carols.

Elestr Lee

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