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