A large and enthusiastic audience enjoyed the Chichester Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Concert at St Paul’s Church, which brought this year’s Festival of Chichester to a triumphant conclusion.
There was a satisfying, if fortuitous, symmetry to their choice of opener – Brahms’s great Tragic Overture – since its companion piece, the Academic Festival Overture, had opened the Festival in the Chichester Singers Concert a month ago. After a few moments to settle, the Orchestra was soon into its stride, and all the striving and angst of Brahms’s musical struggle were admirably conveyed. A beautiful interlude of calm was provided in the gentler middle section by the upper woodwind led by the limpid oboe, but all was put aside in the almost brutal climax that conductor Mark Hartt-Palmer conjured out of his players. Since Brahms attached no “programme” to the work, one can only imagine what personal demons the composer was exorcising in the last pages of this magnificent work.
We then went back a few decades for Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto, stylishly played by Etty Wake. It is more spacious than Haydn’s rather better known example, while the unison opening and military signals betray the ten-year gap that had brought both Beethoven’s forthright music and the war against Napoleon closer to home. The soloist brought out both the gentler side of the music, particularly in the slow movement with its chromatic sighs - now possible on the newly-invented keyed trumpet, as well as the more virtuosic passages that abounded in the lively last movement. The smaller orchestra made for some neat and sympathetic accompaniment.
After the interval the orchestra played Beethoven’s totemic Fifth Symphony. Mark Hartt-Palmer’s interpretation had plenty of verve and drive, particularly at the transformation into the major key for the last movement as well as its ending. However, the brave choice of work did call into question several aspects of the orchestra’s balance. The opening 4-note motto, which admittedly is scored only for strings and clarinets, did not have the weight of sound for the “knock of fate” that it is supposed to represent, and illustrates the fact that the orchestra really needs more string players to balance the wind and brass. The difference when the horns in particular joined in the motto some bars later was astonishing. Fate certainly knocked at that point! In some respects the imbalance wasn’t of great moment. Beethoven loved his wind instruments and there are many wonderful passages in this work where they are intended to be at the fore, while the strings made merry to great effect in the 3rd movement’s Trio – the work’s one lighter moment. Nevertheless, amidst the sustained rise in playing standards within the orchestra for some years now, the tricky question of balance remains. The audience’s rapturous applause at the end, however, was testament enough to the growing quality and reputation of Chichester’s own orchestra.