Reviews

Chichester Symphony Orchestra – Festival of Chichester Concert
St Paul's Church, 13th July 2019

In a glorious Saturday afternoon in St Paul’s Church, we were served a delicious evening of orchestral works from that great son of Bohemia, Antonín Dvořák, with a somewhat appropriate sandwich-filling of his contemporary, Johannes Brahms. The German was highly influential in the rise of Dvořák’s fortunes as it was with his support and guidance that set the plucky young Czech on a more nationalistic and, indeed, populist path.

So it was fitting that the Chichester Symphony Orchestra opened their Summer Concert with a selection from his first set of Slavonic Dances. Composed in 1878, these pieces finally delivered the wider recognition he deserved. Whilst Brahms may have been accused of appropriating melodies for his similar Hungarian Dances, Dvořák merely idealized elements of traditional Czech folk dances and remoulded them into original and highly individual orchestral pieces. A variety of mood was covered in a terrific performance by the CSO with abundant detail and colouring, from the potent vigour of the furiants to the delightful charm of the sousedská. The boundless energy of the popular dance No. VIII, in full presto tempo, only highlights Dvořák’s ground-breaking harmonic ingenuity. Interestingly, this switch of mode in a melodic thread swapping from major to minor, is often, erroneously, considered a modern device (just hum the opening bars of the theme from HBO’s Game of Thrones and you’ll see the remarkable similarity; we composers stand on the shoulders of giants).

Which brings us to the sweet filling of Johannes Brahms’s Violin Concerto, written in the same year and dedicated to the composer’s friend, the virtuoso Joseph Joachim. Undeniably he would need to be skilful, as the piece is fiendishly difficult for any soloist. It is fortunate for us then that the CSO’s one-time Leader, Catherine Lawlor, stepped up to give a truly breath-taking performance. I cannot stress enough how technically demanding and formidable this work is for a violinist. It stands as a watershed in the repertoire with good reason: the rapid passagework, enormous rhythmic variation and abundance of multiple-stops are challenging in the extreme and Lawlor’s execution was as confident and sure-footed as I have heard. Highly impressive. Special mention must also go to the woodwind section’s sonorous wind chorale in the second movement and a polished oboe solo by Wendy Carpenter.

It must be said at this point that I am not a fan of the acoustics in St Paul’s. The sound reflections give an unpleasant and nebulous effect to the music that serves to dampen all those wonderful articulations. The problem was further augmented by the bassoons and harmonically-rich low brass playing from a raised platform in the apse. Despite this, conductor Simon Wilkins maintained the orchestra in a balanced and tightly controlled manner which negated some of these disagreeable environmental effects.

After the interval, we returned to Dvořák and his Symphony No. 5, a beautiful pastoral work evoking the landscapes of his native Bohemia, and the orchestra captured the balmy summer mood of the first movement perfectly. The enchanting slow movement, with its ample provision of counter-melodies, was equally delivered as the composer intended: a relaxing walk in the Czech countryside. The jovial scherzo followed by a darker trio kept the music alive and fascinating before the powerful finale. Here, again, Dvořák shows his harmonic originality by opening the movement with a forceful A minor chord, quite foreign to the tonic F major to which we return only after a long and exhilarating journey through considerable suspense and drama.

It was, ultimately, a wonderful evening; a snapshot of romantic music at its finest, arousing an array of emotions and full of vitality.

Now, after all that adventure, there was talk of a sandwich?

Bruno Newman

 

Chichester Symphony Orchestra Concert – Westbourne House School, 26th January 2019

“An afternoon at the Movies”, I replied to the umpteenth question of where we were headed on a dreary Saturday afternoon. It was clear that my ruse would not last, subject to the scrutiny of my four long-sceptical children aged between five and eleven, even before we turned away from the cinema. There was already the suspicion – rightly, as it turns out, that this had something to do with an orchestral concert.

Except this was a Family Concert, and it was just that. The Chichester Symphony Orchestra performed a varied programme of modern and classic movie soundtracks from the world of Hollywood, jazz and musical theatre. Aimed for families with young children, it was hugely entertaining and informative for both kids and adults alike. A blend of musical education, theatre and humour meant the hour went by in a flash of a light sabre. More on that later.

From the moment he walked up to the podium, Simon Wilkins, the CSO’s young but endearingly charismatic conductor, immediately put us at our ease. Dismantling any notion of stuffiness, he introduced us to the various sections of the orchestra, all helpfully dressed in colour co-ordination, with a handy reference guide to each instrument printed in our programme.

John Williams’ original Star Wars Suite from A New Hope was a sure-footed way to start the proceedings, and the orchestra certainly did not disappoint. The brass section, at full symphonic strength, were magnificent. The iconic top C for the trumpets in the main theme was struck with precision and confidence every time, with the low brass doing justice to Williams’ masterful, but challenging, counterpoint. It is a testament to the skill of the conductor here that the overall balance was good, despite the orchestra being a little light in violins against the full force of the brass, double woodwind and a panoply of percussionists. Whilst Simon jested that there’s only one real Solo in Star Wars, special mention must be made for Jill Hooker’s hauntingly beautiful flute in Princess Leia’s Theme.

And from that galaxy far, far away we were invited to spend A Night on the Bare Mountain in Modest Mussorgsky’s terrifying tone poem and, judging by the faces of my children, this musical “ghost-train” had its desired effect. Staying on the dark side with Williams’ Imperial March, Simon pulled his masterstroke.  After schooling the audience in the art of a basic four-pattern, he handed a (suitably sized) baton to a small boy, picked at random, to conduct his symphony orchestra. What could have been a gimmick was heart-meltingly adorable, and indeed a perfect metaphor for the CSO’s mission to make classical music accessible to all.

The excursion to ‘30s America with Gershwin in Hollywood was less successful, not that it wasn’t impeccably played, only that it is in the company of far more recognisable works for younger ears. An orchestral medley of Abba tracks brought us back to familiar territory (I swear I could hear them singing along behind me) and we were subsequently treated to Leroy Anderson’s light-hearted Jazz Pizzicato – a wonderful example of the versatility of the strings, resplendent as they were in their red sectional colour.

This all worked so well simply because of the easy-going charm of the conductor who, like a young Leonard Bernstein with his Young People’s Concerts, effortlessly educates and entertains a broad range of listeners, whilst never taking himself too seriously. We all felt involved. Come the return to the Throne Room and End Credits there was a genuine feeling of delight in the room.

So, plenty to discover and enjoy in this wonderful programme, and one can only hope that it will become a regular feature of the Chichester Symphony Orchestra in the future.

“This was better than the cinema”, remarked my five-year-old as we were leaving. A New Hope indeed…

Bruno Newman

Chichester Symphony Orchestra Concert – Chichester Cathedral, 23rd October 2018

Tuesday lunchtime at half term in a cathedral packed to the rafters. Do cathedrals have rafters? Anyway, it could mean only one thing: Chichester Symphony Orchestra’s annual Cathedral concert and a fine one it was too with CSO under the direction of their new conductor Simon Wilkins.

These short 50 minute concerts must be difficult to programme, requiring something reasonably substantial (here Beethoven’s 1st symphony) backed up by shorter but satisfying works (for audience and players), in this case Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave) and the delightful Järnefelt Praeludium.

The concert began with the Mendelssohn and immediately one could sense that the audience was ‘involved’ from the well-known opening theme. There was some particularly sonorous playing from the cellos and a strong clarinet solo. The wind sections were secure and the trumpets vibrant. There was good rhythmic ensemble playing, controlled by Simon Wilkins’ well-organised handling of the various changes in tempi. Perhaps especially notable was the good dynamic contrast in this piece and elsewhere. Before the concert, my neighbour told me of her visit to the splendid Fingal’s Cave. I asked her afterwards if the orchestra had managed to convey the atmosphere of the place. “Oh, definitely”, she replied. That says it all really.

After a slightly hesitant start to the Järnefelt this charming evocation of what I took to be Finnish countryside developed beautifully with lovely contributions for solo violin by CSO’s new leader Catherine Lawlor and splendid horns and trumpets mimicking bugles. Again, this really conveyed atmosphere – one could almost hear horses trotting along through the snow with a troika.

The orchestra achieved good balance in the opening movement of the Beethoven symphony and, again, effective dynamic contrast. The wind section was secure with especially fine playing from principal oboe Wendy Carpenter. I’m told that second violins (perhaps because they are second violins) are terrified by the sort of opening that confronts them in the second movement but, if so, that was not obvious. There was lovely expressive phrasing here. The third and fourth movements were taken at a fair lick, perhaps a touch faster than was comfortable, but the orchestra responded in fine style and, if the ensemble creaked a little at times, the overall effect was a joyous response from a group of players who clearly enjoy making music together under their new conductor.

Jonathan Hooker

Chichester Symphony Orchestra Summer Concert – Festival of Chichester
St. Paul’s Church, Chichester, 14th July 2018

Each year as the Festival of Chichester draws to a close the Chichester Symphony Orchestra performs its Summer Concert at St. Paul’s Church by the Northgate roundabout. The Festival’s promotion marketing helps to encourage a large audience and this year’s was reckoned to be the largest ever with c200 enthusiastically packing into the church. Hot though we were in this long dry spell, it was nothing in comparison to the hard working players who gave their all throughout the evening to great effect.

The concert opened with Mozart’s wonderful Magic Flute Overture, K620 composed in the last few months of his life. As the well-researched and interesting programme notes informed us, Mozart brings together the polar opposites of the opera, profundity and comedy with such conviction that there is an invigorating sense that something special is in store. The same can be said of the orchestra, under the relatively new team of Simon Wilkins (Conductor) and Catherine Lawlor (Leader), as the Overture was performed with great verve but attention to detail to provide an uplifting start to the programme.

The appreciative applause gave the players a little time to cool down before being joined by Pavlos Carvalho for Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104. Pavlos’ biography is certainly impressive in terms of international competition successes and performing in the UK and abroad, but there is clearly much more to his musicality than the straight classical repertoire with much involvement in education programmes and concluding the Festival here in Chichester performing with a Greek folk music band. His ability to communicate sensitively in music was immediately apparent in his rapport with the conductor and given full rein in this superb concerto with its mix of chamber music-like passages and symphonic grandeur. The duet between soloist and leader was both visually and audibly perfect with Pavlos’ turning to make eye contact and the same level of togetherness was apparent in the other chamber combinations even though the woodwind and brass sections were obviously behind him. Dvorak’s writing for the cello is justifiably much loved, particularly by cellists, as evidenced by the wonderfully melodic theme in his 8th Symphony and this concerto is equally popular, often being paired in recordings with Elgar’s. Soloist and orchestra did full justice to Dvorak’s blend of national idioms and folk tunes with symphonic traditions that were also influenced by his time in America where this concerto was written. The rapturous applause would probably have gone on for even longer if not for everyone needing a breath of fresh air.

The concert concluded with Sibelius’ challenging Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, Op.82 written during the First World War and in time for his 50th birthday celebrations which, as a Finnish national hero, were virtually a national holiday. Perhaps even more so than Dvorak the music of Sibelius expresses a strong nationalistic consciousness but it is by no means all bombastic. The orchestra’s horns and brass sections played their many memorable passages superbly, particularly in the third movement building to the finale, whilst the strings handled the rather eerie and contemplative central movement sensitively and watchfully. Throughout the complex woodwind writing with many soloistic passages, superbly played, and the understated but musically effective conducting of Simon Wilkins held the piece confidently together to its exultant final chords delivered to unusual double-fisted sweeps of the baton.

This was a concert worthy of concluding the Festival of Chichester, well programmed and clearly carefully rehearsed, which was hugely enjoyed by the audience. The orchestra, soloist and conductor can be justly proud of their achievements and we can look forward to their next offering – the always popular lunchtime concert in Chichester Cathedral on 23rd October.

Philip Wake

Chichester Symphony Orchestra - Spring Concert, St Paul’s Church, Chichester, 17th March 2018

On Saturday March 17th the Chichester Symphony Orchestra presented their Spring concert at St. Paul’s Church, Chichester. Despite the very inclement weather the brave souls who attended were treated to an exciting evening of contrasting styles from the 18th – 20th century.

The programme began, rather appropriately, with Rossini’s Overture to the Silken Ladder. Much of Rossini’s music was written spontaneously, with his sponsors sitting around him demanding the music he had promised be delivered in time for the premiere. The concert began quite suddenly, but none the worse for that! With sparse orchestration to begin, the woodwind took the lead and played with great accomplishment. They were followed by the rest of the orchestra and showed themselves to be equally assured. Tempo changes were achieved well and the ‘Rossini Rockets’ were exciting, with excellent tuning (worth mentioning particularly on a cold night).

Then followed some early Mozart- Les Petits Riens, K299b

This began with a genuinely Mozartian full, well balanced sound, which contrasted well with the chamber qualities in later movements. Some string only movements displayed a rich and well balanced sound, particularly between the 1st & 2nd violins when playing in parallel.

There was reference to the Hurdy Gurdy with the use of a drone accompaniment, and flutes and horns were also given prominence in later movements

Respighi’s ‘The Birds’ followed. This is a delightful work in 5 short movements, a Preludio (which those of us old enough to remember the TV antiques programme ‘Gone for a Song’ were familiar with) and then 4 sections, each representing a different bird. There were some lovely fluttering of wings in ‘The Dove’ and solos for oboe and violin (doubled by clarinet with excellent tuning). ‘The Hen’ needed no explanations. Humorous and with lovely orchestration, it was great fun. The ‘Nightingale’ showed a contrast of mood, being relaxed and a showcasing the flute. ‘The Cuckoo’ used full orchestra, a good sound with bird calls appearing from amongst all sections. It included a convincing ‘harp’ sound and a rather bizarre ‘celesta’ which sounded rather unexpected!

In the interval standing and perusing the program while recovering from the effects of the hard wooden seats, I was impressed by the very informative program notes.

The second half of the programme was a performance of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, and with so many fine recordings available a brave and welcome choice. The first movement was joyous, with some nice Q and A going on between the parts and a good dynamic range, although perhaps the passing of the melody between the instruments could have been more prominent at times, and the bass instruments were a little overwhelmed. There was almost no break before the 2nd movement which came as a bit of a surprise. Beethoven’s dynamic markings here are at times as quiet as possible, which is very hard to achieve, so the double forte when the brass arrived was less effective. However, it was well played with some charming detail in the lace like string accompaniment to the melody. The major section was well executed with fine playing by the horns and clarinet as was the fugato. There was a lovely scale passed down through the instruments which was a delight. The 3rd movement was again joyous. It had some great crescendos and overall good dynamics; a little uneasiness at the repeat was quickly recovered and there were some genuinely exquisite moments. The Finale was a delight with some real drama and was well played with good dynamic contrast and a triumphant finish.

This was an excellent concert, enjoyed by all.

Hugh Carpenter

Chichester Symphony Orchestra - Christmas Concert, St Paul’s Church, Chichester, 9th December, 2017

There was an enthusiastic audience on Saturday at St Paul’s Church, Chichester for the Chichester Symphony Orchestra’s annual Christmas concert. The festive mood was in evidence throughout, as the programme mixed seasonal orchestral favourites with carols for the audience.

Strauss’s Overture to Die Fledermaus was a firecracker of an opening. Conductor Mark Hartt-Palmer was able to conjure up lots of contrast, from lilting waltz passages to fiery polkas, and we might almost have imagined ourselves at the New Year’s Ball in Vienna! The main work in the first half was Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite – nursery rhyme depictions evoking many a pantomime tale. Ravel’s uncanny ability to enter the magical world of a child made for music of unusual delicacy, to which the orchestra beautifully responded.

After the interval we really hit the Christmas spirit, with Coleridge-Taylor’s Christmas Overture and two seasonal items by Leroy Anderson, concluding with the ever-popular Sleigh Ride, all despatched with festive élan. Interspersed with these were the audience carols. In introducing them, Mark conjured up the topical spirit of Strictly Come Dancing by asking his senior players to sit in judgement on the audience’s singing, to gauge whether they deserved an encore of the Sleigh Ride. They did!

Amidst the seasonal merriment, this concert did, however, mark a significant moment in the life of the Orchestra, being Mark’s last appearance as their Conductor. His involvement has been long and distinguished, having joined them as Leader in 2000. In the years following he also stepped out as violin soloist in a succession of outstanding concerto performances. Finally he took over at the helm in 2013, and since that time has raised the orchestra’s playing standards immeasurably. A policy of string recruitment has led to a richer string sound which now provides a much better balance with the wind and brass. Ensemble is better, and there has been a noticeable improvement in the orchestra’s quiet playing, providing more of a contrast with the well-known exuberance of their big guns! Mark can hand over the reins to his successor confident in a job superbly done.

Richard Barnes

Chichester Symphony Orchestra – review of lunch time concert 24th October in Chichester Cathedral.

For our lunchtime concert on Tuesday 24th the Chichester Symphony Orchestra performed in the Cathedral under the baton of Mark Hartt-Palmer and with Yasmin Rowe playing solo piano. The concert began with the performance of Mozart’s overture from the Opera ‘La Clemenza Di Tito’. Not one of Mozart’s best known overtures, this begins with unison strings, often a challenge to amateur orchestras. However this was well in tune, confidently played and with a rich string tone. It was followed by the woodwind playing delicately with a chamber-like quality which set the tone for the rest of the piece. The orchestra was well balanced and there was good contrast in the dynamics and articulation.

Following our ‘hors d’oeuvre’ our main course was the lovely Schumann piano concerto in A minor, written in 1845 and first played by his wife Clara. Yasmin plays with great authority and she has a lovely singing quality with which she brings out the melodies. Her playing was at times romantic, dramatic and impassioned; at others it was intimate and delicate. She accompanied sensitively when required, and there was a good rapport with the orchestra, although there were times when the orchestra could perhaps have been a little more assertive.

The 2nd movement was lyrical and there was some lovely detail in the piano’s descending arpeggios. The cadenza was a delight. Yasmin was obviously much more interested in engaging the audience musically than using it to show off her undeniable technique. As it was it sounded at times that she was playing a duet! There was a flawless transition to the 3rd movement when the cyclic form allowed us to revisit themes from the 1st movement. A lovely main course!

I was beginning to sadden – I was hungry for more. The ovation following the concerto was genuine and well deserved but short; however, thankfully we were treated to an encore – the lovely ‘Widmung’ by Schumann, originally written to be sung to words by Ruckert, which extolls the virtue of a pure love, which probably explains the quirky quote of Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ to end – as the ‘most perfect love’ – but arranged for piano solo, could it be as fulfilling? Yes it could, it all made sense! Our lunchtime banquet was complete.

Hugh Carpenter

Chichester Symphony Orchestra Festival of Chichester concert - Saturday 15th July 2017

The CSO – Chichester’s own symphony orchestra – impressed a full house last night at St Paul’s. For this was Chichester’s musical best! Our very own CSO offered some glorious moments of similarity to their illustrious acronym peers in Chicago – such is the progress over the last couple of years of this wonderful part of our local cultural scene under the deft baton of Mark Hartt-Palmer.

After a slightly hesitant start, this assured orchestra led by Lis Peskett never looked back. To open, the packed house was treated to the six, mainly rousing movements of Bizet’s beefy Carmen suite. Oboist Wendy Carpenter’s wistful mid-piece phrases heralded a finale during which many an audience lip quivered to the toreadors’ march of do do doodle oo, do do do dodoodle oo, do do doodle oo, do doodle oo etc.

There then followed for me the highlight of the evening – the quite extraordinary French horn talents of BBC Young Musician of the Year finalist Ben Goldscheider in a technically challenging three movement concerto. He was accompanied quite exquisitely by the well-balanced upper and lower strings – and the warm, controlled wind section These provided by turns, the backdrop to a poignant, occasionally melancholic, then cautiously triumphant piece. Composed by a Russian -Reinhold Glière – surprisingly as late as 1950 – this piece was completely new to most of us and had very strong romantic period roots it seemed to this listener, albeit closing with Soviet style militaristic exultation in the big brassy finish. I could easily imagine this as an accompaniment, to a bunch of self-awarded medals – pinned proudly to Russian big cheeses’ lapels, at a Red Square march-past. And so genuinely satisfyingly delivered too by both soloist and orchestra, for we in the two and sixpennies.

The evening was completed by an interesting interpretation of the Tchaikovsky Symphony No 2 “Little Russian”. After another somewhat hesitant start, there were some sensitively rendered full orchestra passages despite the occasional few stuttering phrases. The second movement contained yet again another reflection of the new-found confidence of the CSO with a warm glow cast over the proceedings by the calm mid-passage – not this time from the brilliant young soloist – but from part of the CSO home-grown talent in the shape of the first desk horn. A delightful, rich sound from one who knows his instrument well.

And so, on to the finale. Here lay a sharp contrast to the previous sensitive playing. The weapons-grade brass section proclaimed the grandest ‘issimo’ of any fortissimo the rapt audience had ever heard.

That the Chichester Symphony Orchestra can attract soloists of the international standard calibre of Ben Goldscheider is a clear reflection of the orchestra’s current status. It was a true evening’s entertainment that undoubtedly deserves to attract new audiences and will easily retain its present faithful adherents. Further full houses will inevitably follow this challenging but balanced programme.

As a footnote I would like to mention and applaud Conductor Mark’s spoken words of introduction. How refreshing to hear from a man who is more familiar with the repertoire than us, offering us some further intriguing insights into what we were to hear. More please, Mark! More please CSO!

Andrew Simpson