There is nothing quite like a Rossini overture to get the audience on side and the Chichester Symphony Orchestra certainly managed that when they began their Spring concert at St Paul’s Church with ‘Semiramide’. Indeed such was the force of the opening orchestral ‘tuttis’ that the man in front of me literally jumped from his seat. Order was restored by the horns (excellent all evening) with the first melody securely and sensitively played. Conductor Mark Hartt-Palmer managed the tricky corners between recurring themes with ease and there was effective contrast between the strings and woodwind, in particular the precise pizzicato in the lower strings covered by Bridgette Knight’s sparkling piccolo. Then came the characteristic rousing Rossini crescendo played with panache. Smiles all round.
Bizet’s Petite Suite from Jeux d’enfants was the other work in the first half. Originally a set of 12 pieces for piano duet Bizet later orchestrated five of the numbers which provided the orchestra with ample opportunity to showcase individual skills. The contrasting fast and slow movements cleverly depicted children at play but the most striking movement was the interplay between the upper and lower strings in the duo ‘Petit Mari, Petite femme’. The violins under Liz Peskett’s leadership provided a strong ensemble, the cellos and basses matching them in an enchanting few minutes.
The concert was in aid of the St Paul’s Church Organ Fund so it was appropriate that the new organ was put through its paces after the interval by the church’s organist Barry Newton. Two contrasting pieces, John Stanley’s familiar and vigorous Trumpet Voluntary and a wistful Folk Tune by Percy Whitlock showed off the organ (and organist) in style.
The final work, Mendelssohn’s much loved 4th Symphony (‘Italian’), again provided excellent contrast between the sections of the orchestra with fine woodwind playing in the exposed second movement and noteworthy contributions from the bassoons in particular. If the pace seemed a touch hectic at times in the faster movements with occasional loss of ensemble and intonation Mark Hart-Palmer always seemed in control and any minor blemish never detracted from an overall effect of vitality and enjoyment. The rousing finale brought trumpets, timpani and cymbals to the party as well and we all went home wanting more.