March 7th 2020 – St James Church, Taunton 7.30pm

Conductor – David Hedges

Beethoven – Symphony no 4 in B flat major
Delius – On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Bruckner – Symphony no 4 in E flat major

Joining the celebrations for Beethoven’s 250th birthday this year, Somerset County Orchestra opened their concert last night with his Symphony no 4, Op. 60. The players, under the energetic baton of David Hedges, gave a polished performance. The opening adagio was impressive, engaging the audience from the first notes and leading to a beautifully controlled transition to the lively allegro vivace. We heard hints of Mozart and Haydn in this sparky section, but the music was definitely Beethoven. The performers captured very well a style that might be described as classical with a modern (in 1806) edge. The complex second movement, adagio, was very well integrated, with interest passing smoothly from section to section in the orchestra, and embellishments woven neatly around steady rhythms.

The third movement, an energetic scherzo, felt a bit sluggish at times. But everyone was back on course, and enjoying themselves in the fourth movement. The buoyant allegro showed off all sections of the band (especially the lower strings) and brought the work to a perfect conclusion, perfectly played.

Following this, we heard Delius’ “On hearing the first cuckoo in spring”, included specifically to remember the late Ronald Prentice, a long standing member of the Orchestra who died in October 2019. Among numerous interests, Ron was Chair of the West of England Delius Society for many years. A tribute to him appeared in this evening’s programme, echoed by David Hedges in a few graceful words before this item in the concert.

The Orchestra played Delius’ lovely tone poem with a lush string sound, saved from wallowing by the woodwind. The cuckoo itself – maybe more than one – was subtle but audible and carefully placed to catch the listeners’ interest, and the ending was very effective indeed.

After the interval came a real rarity, Bruckner’s Symphony no.4, the “Romantic”. First, all credit to the players and conductor for including this epic, but unwieldy, work in their programme. They coped well with a marathon performance of a work which would have benefited from some editing. The composer provided numerous thrilling and dramatic effects – and then repeated most of them half a dozen times to make sure we all “got it”.

However, the overall playing was committed and intense, and the energy did not flag throughout. Extra brass was added, in evidence right from the start. The big sound effectively communicated expansive landscapes of mountains and forests, a backdrop to romantic stories and myths. Despite the size of the orchestra, playing was impressively controlled and integrated, the various colours of different sections highlighted to magical effect. There were some bumpy entrances along the way, and places where the balance between sections was not well judged. But the composer’s overall intention was to tell heroic stories, to paint compelling pictures, to bring mythical figures to life. In these aims, the players succeeded magnificently.

Sue Goodman
March 2020

December 8th 2019 – St Mary’s Church, Taunton 3pm

Conductor – David Hedges
Soloists – Miles Quick (Organ), Caroline Best (Cello),
Sue Turner (Oboe)

Zipoli – Adagio for oboe, cello, organ and strings
Boyce – Symphony no 1 in Bb major
Handel – Organ concerto op 4 no 5 in F major
Mozart – Symphony no 39 in Eb major

In the welcoming acoustic of St Mary Magdalene Church, Somerset County Orchestra produced a lovely rich and vibrant sound, playing on top form. A concert of 18th century music gave us both familiar and less well-known repertoire and included the organ, as part of musical celebrations of recently renovated “Father Willis”.

Zipoli’s Adagio for oboe, cello, organ and strings (previously unknown to me) is a calm and stately piece. A smooth and sustained string texture, played with beautiful sensitivity, acts as a foil for the solo instruments, which rise into focus with serene melodies and dramatic touches. Sue Turner on oboe and Caroline Best on cello (both are regular and long-standing members of the Orchestra) gave exactly the right contrast, while never losing touch with the overall musical soundscape.

Boyce’s Symphony no. 1 in B flat major came next. Brisk and robust playing, ably managed by conductor David Hedges, demonstrated the players’ familiarity with 18th century style. Again, the ensemble playing was excellent, with expressive tempi and dynamics and a strong sense of the overall structure of the piece. A flute solo in the second movement was brilliantly played by Sally Hedges.

Although the restored Willis organ is now back to its original grandeur, Handel’s Organ concerto op.4 no.5 in F major calls for only a chamber organ. However, small is beautiful and Miles Quick as organ soloist brought out all the detail and charm of the music. The four movements called for a wide range of colours and textures, from the gentle opening to the exuberant finale. Organ and orchestra complemented each other perfectly, with a good balance between the players and intelligently planned interplay between soloist and orchestra.

Finally, Mozart’s Symphony no 39 in E flat (K543) completed the programme. Now bolstered by brass, the orchestra gave a competent and disciplined performance. The sense of cohesion among the players was evident from the well-judged opening chords (reminiscent of the start of the overture to the The Magic Flute) and continuing with the beautiful gliding allegro. The first signs of a lack of togetherness came in the second movement. (The programme mentioned ‘meandering through melodies’ and is has to be said there was a certain amount of meandering through tonalities also – possibly under-rehearsed?) However, with the delightful minuet in the third movement, elegantly played, the players were back on track and playing as one. The exuberant finale was a joy, with exciting tutti passages, charming woodwind touches, and expert handling of the unexpected pauses and key changes. Finishing abruptly in a shower of sparks, this was a performance to relish.

Sue Goodman December 2019

October 19th 2019 – St James Church, Taunton 2.30pm

Conductor – David Hedges
Soloist – Rustom Pomeroy

Brahms – Academic Overture
Elgar – Violin Concerto
Schumann – Symphony no 1