Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Immaculate, timeless orchestra treated us to life in the fast lane

FOR its 2016 spring concert the Henley Symphony Orchestra presented a richly romantic programme.

FOR its 2016 spring concert the Henley Symphony Orchestra presented a richly romantic programme.

Verdi’s overture to

La forza del destino
is the epitome of operatic tragedy. Its dramatic start — three strong chords representing fate — was played robustly by a well-balanced brass section followed by a menacing sotto voce theme from the strings, hinting at the drama to follow.

The oboe and flute were joined at the hip in their introduction of the next theme, providing a plaintive hint of a possible alternative to fate. Immaculate!

The renowned clarinet solo that presents the main theme in full for the first time was played with pleasing liquidity, beautifully accompanied by the tinkling harp, setting the scene for hope and reconciliation against the power of fate.

Verdi’s comic ploy to treat the theme frivolously was presented convincingly by the strings, only to be rejected equally convincingly by everyone else. Then a protracted crescendo led ultimately to a satisfying climax. What happens next? You need to see the opera.

Rachmaninov’s passionate

Piano Concerto No 2
has probably drawn more people into the classical music sphere than any other concerto. Martin Roscoe was the soloist on this occasion.

After the famous eight introductory chords the work settled down, allowing Martin to reveal all the wonderful intricacies of the piano part. These are often lost in the urge to express the drama rather than luxuriate in the exquisite detail.

The orchestra, under the direction of Ian Brown, took its cue from the soloist and matched his tempi and mood every step of the way.

The high point in this concerto has to be the plaintive melody in the slow movement that gently wafts to and fro between the piano and woodwind with the accompaniment of dreamily flowing triplets. We were not disappointed.

Then life in the fast lane was restored by the pyrotechnics and joyful romp through the finale as the soloist, as energetic as ever, spurred the orchestra on to a triumphant conclusion.

After the interval came a solid and well-prepared performance of Brahms’s

Symphony No 4
. The ethereal opening was superbly played by the strings, setting the tone for a disciplined and warm account of this challenging work.

The orchestra can boast a generous complement of strings — rare among amateur orchestras. This provided weight when it was needed to balance the brass and percussion sections that are always favoured by the Hexagon’s weird acoustics.

Not to be left out, the woodwind were responsive to each other’s sensitivities, providing broad phrasing and accurate intonation on those occasions when Brahms’s harmonies make this difficult to achieve.

The wind solos came across particularly well in the slow movement, but first prize must go the principal flute for her heart-rending solo lament in the passacaglia variations. Timeless!

John Burleigh

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