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.