Sunday 9th December 2018 – St Mary’s Church, Taunton 3.00pm
Conductor – David Hedges Soloists – Sally Hedges (flute) & Sally Jenkins (harp)
Haydn – Symphony no 22
Mozart – Concerto for flute and harp
Beethoven – Symphony no 2
Saturday 10th November 2018 – St James Church, Taunton 7.30pm
Conductor – David Hedges Soloist – Lorna Anderson
Bliss – Things to Come
Butterworth – A Shropshire Lad
Gurney arr. Keedes – Severn Meadows
Vaughan Williams – A London Symphony (no 2)
SCO completed its very successful Centenary Commemoration series with a fifth concert celebrating composers whose lives were changed, or ended, by the Great War.
Mainstay of the evening was Vaughan Williams’ expansive ‘London Symphony’, originally written in 1914 just before the outbreak of war and later revised. The piece is majestic, expansive, protean – sprawling would be a less polite word, but there was nothing sprawling about the performance. In David Hedges’ expert hands, the expanded forces of the SCO gave a confident performance of this tumultuous work. As a portrait of London, the music covers a wide variety of moods. A reflective opening, with low strings suggesting mist rising from the Thames, grew in energy and pitch as more and more colours were added. Over the course of the symphony tutti passages were interspersed with very effective solos; large ensembles provided excitement, contrasted with numerous well-executed details – the Westminster chimes, snatches of folk tunes, traffic in the street, the calm flow of the Thames. Every section of the orchestra played its part in creating the changing patterns; the playing was committed and exciting, making a complex whole from what could so easily have been a succession of unrelated effects.
Before the interval we heard three smaller pieces. The opening work was George Butterworth’s ‘A Shropshire Lad Rhapsody’, based on his settings of A. E. Housman’s poems. The piece starts with muted string chords – possibly not the ideal start for the orchestra, as the upper strings were tentative and thus not entirely in tune. However, these issues slipped away as the music built up and the players became more confident. The full orchestra produced a lovely integrated sound at the climax, beautifully complemented by the solo flute coda.
Sir Arthur Bliss’ modernist suite ‘Things to come’, based on his 1936 film score for H. G. Wells, is quite different. A series of scenes, the music ranges over a number of different styles, but all with some underlying tension. The opening Ballet for Children was lively and energetic, with war-like echoes becoming more pronounced by snare-drum insistence. The large forces of the orchestra were unfailingly well marshalled, and especially impressive in the intricate rhythms of Machines – all the players were alert and responsive, and produced a tightly controlled sound. The March scene was, not surprisingly, overtly militaristic; the brass sections were enjoying themselves hugely, but so was the audience! The whole piece crackled with controlled energy.
The first half of the concert closed with a different mood again. Ivor Gurney wrote over 200 songs before and after the War, despite the mental health problems brought on by war-time experiences. Seven of these form the song-cycle ‘Severn Meadows’, selected and orchestrated by David Hedges. They were performed tonight by Lorna Anderson, whose supple and responsive singing brought out every nuance. Each line of poetry was beautifully coloured, taking the listeners from the pretty birds of “Spring” through to the weary acceptance of “Sleep”. The orchestra accompanied elegantly, with the woodwind playing an important role. If they occasionally threatened to drown the singer, the threat was (usually) averted.
All in all, this was a magnificent evening of orchestral music, showing once again what local talent we enjoy in live music.
Sue Goodman 10.11.18
Saturday 16th June 2018 – Queen’s College, Taunton 7.30pm
Conductor – David Hedges Soloists – Nick White & Rosalind Broad
Copland – Rodeo Suite
Bizet – Habanera from Carmen
Strauss – Pizzicato Polka
Artie Shaw – Concerto for Clarinet (soloist Nick White)
Williams arr Breeze – Star Wars Suite
Gluck – Che Faro Senza Euridice
Guy d’Hardelot – A Lesson with the Fan
Mascagni – Cavalleria Rusticana: Intermezzo
Wood – Fantasia on British Sea Songs
Elgar – Pomp and Circumstance March no 1
Parry – Jerusalem (Rosalind Broad mezzo soprano)
Flags were waving at Somerset County Orchestra’s end of season extravaganza on 16 June. A colourful concert ended with the red, white and blue of traditional ‘Last Night of the Proms’ festivities, but there was lots fun before that.
An expanded orchestra opened the show with Copland’s “Rodeo Suite” from 1942. Infectious rhythms were captured by all performers, with some lovely smooth ensemble playing in the Saturday Night Waltz section. The lively Hoedown is the most popular of the scenes, featuring folk and jazz idioms where all sections of the orchestra meshed expertly in precise syncopations. David Hedges, calmly in control as always, stepped down from the podium at the end of the piece and left the players to encore the Hoedown – without a conductor. They managed it brilliantly, of course. David’s witty asides and audience interaction throughout the evening added to the spirit of informal merry-making.
Next up was another kind of dance, the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, with mezzo-soprano Rosalind Broad capturing Carmen’s sultry appeal. Ros is a beautiful singer, and a very good actress too. Her varied cameo appearances during the concert included a flirtatious lady giving “A lesson with a fan”, Orpheus lamenting “Che faro senza Euridice” (though too brisk a tempo, in my opinion), and Britannia in Henry Wood’s “Fantasia on British sea songs”. All in all, a terrific guest performer.
After Johann Strauss’ “Pizzicato polka” we heard the highlight of the evening – Artie Shaw’s “Concerto for clarinet”. Another 1940s composition, this is music like no other. Incorporating jazz, swing and classical styles, it started life as a film score; the film flopped, but the music is a definite hit. Soloist Nick White is classically trained, with a very diverse range of experience, from Mozart to Chris Barber. He made the music his own with a stylish and confident performance, ending with a flourish of extraordinary high notes disappearing upwards!
The orchestra was augmented with extra saxophones and clarinets, plus a drum kit, but the sound was all their own. A symphony orchestra playing in ‘big band’ style is a musical experience not to be missed, and our very own orchestra rose to the occasion brilliantly. Solo spots for trumpet, piano, saxophone etc, were spontaneously applauded as they occurred within the piece. The applause at the end was deafening!
After the interval, things got even less stuffy – a buttoned-up “classical” concert this was not! John Williams’ “Star Wars suite” is full of familiar tunes, with lots of orchestral colours. Lush strings and ominous brass, swing melodies and violins being ‘picked’ like guitars, were all handled with nonchalant ease by the players. The “Intermezzo” from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana followed, with an expansive and romantic string sound.
Then it was all fun, frolics, traditional tunes and audience participation to close the evening. Flags and song-sheets at the ready, we joined in ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ during Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March, ‘Rule Britannia’ during the British sea songs, and Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’. The orchestra, with David at the helm, remained energetic and committed to the last note. Long may they continue!
Sue Goodman 19.06.18
Saturday 10th March 2018 – Queens College, Taunton
Conductor – David Hedges Soloist – Weng Soon Tee
Schumann – Manfred Overture
Saint Saens – Piano Concerto no 5 (The Egyptian)
Rachmaninov – Symphony No 2
A large audience gathered in Queen’s College hall for SCO’s concert on 10th March, drawn by adventurous programming and the chance to hear young pianist Weng Soon Tee. He did not disappoint! Still a student, Weng is a fluid and confident player, and a joy to listen to. Saint-Saens’ 5th Piano Concerto is sometimes dubbed “the Egyptian”, and incorporates many foreign influences regarded as the time (1890s) as exotic. Starting with rippling piano phrases, suggestive of sailing to sunny shores, orchestra and piano were quite at home with the unconventional harmonies in the first movement. The piano part was described as “ornamental” but Weng Soon Tee showed real sensitivity, giving the little phrases due thought and weight – never just pretty but an integral part of the piece. Cross-rhythms were expertly and effectively handled by all players, although balance was a problem and the orchestral sound sometimes threatened to submerge the piano. Everyone on the platform, including conductor David Hedges, attacked the jazzy sounds of the finale with gusto and infectious excitement. Weng is obviously a very versatile performer, capable of a wide range of emotional response – from calm seas and soothing billows to ragtime fireworks in an exuberant finale.
The concert started with Schumann’s “Manfred” overture, dating from 1848. Possibly a reflection of the composer’s agitated state of mind, the music is passionate and menacing, ending in a grim melody foreshadowing the hero’s death. The orchestra responded with passionate playing, always responsive to changes in tempo and dynamics. However, the tuning was often awry, especially in the strings – a flaw in an otherwise excellent performance.
The second half of an evening crammed with musical treats was Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. Premiered in 1909, about ten years after his first symphony, it was an instant hit. It’s a big work, of formidable length (we heard the complete, uncut, version) and each movement is innately Russian while acknowledging the advent of a new century. Each of the four movements has a distinct character, captured well by the players in every section of the band. Movement 1 is subtitled “Of gloom and uncertainty in the homeland”, and to my mind, this was the least successful and enjoyable part of the concert – possibly too much “uncertainty”. However, there were glimmers of light, and some lovely woodwind playing, with a memorable cor anglais solo. The second movement scherzo, “Of flight and optimism for the future”, had more energy and general orchestral excitement. The third movement, “Of regret at what has been left behind”, was a different mood again, romantic and tender, with a gorgeous melody lovingly played, and returning in different sections of the orchestra. The finale, “Of resolution and new confidence”, had just that, with a modernist feel and remarkable playing at the end of a long concert.
Finding and portraying all the moods and nuances of a work is what this orchestra does well, guided and inspired by Artistic Director & Principal Conductor David Hedges. They play with their hearts and minds, as well as their hands and ears, and they deserve continued success. Sue Goodman 27.03.18
Sunday 3rd December 2017 – St Mary’s Church, Chard/Sunday 10th December 2017 – St Mary’s Church, Taunton
Conductor – David Hedges Narrator – Suzanne Tottle
Haydn – Symphony No. 6
Bartok – Romanian Dances
Schubert – Symphony No 6
Arr. Keedes – Twelve Days of Christmas
Saturday 21st October 2017 – Queens College, Taunton
Conductor – David Hedges Soloist – Stuart Paul
Beethoven – Coriolan Overture
Hummel – Trumpet Concerto
Shostakovitch – Symphony no 5
Stunning is the only word to describe Somerset County Orchestra’s concert last weekend! They took on Shostakovich’s Symphony no.5 and gave a gutsy and committed performance of this 20th century masterpiece. It is an extraordinary work, described (though probably not by the composer) as “A Soviet artist’s creative reply to just criticism”. The sombre atmosphere of the opening passage was effectively rendered, with the piano as an orchestral instrument adding to the dark textures. The first movement reaches a grotesque and threatening climax, with overwhelming waves of sound from all sections of the orchestra, and if the strings had occasional moments of sour intonation this just added to the general frenzy of the music.
The second movement is calmer, and the several solo phrases from various sections of the ensemble came over very effectively. The music is deceptive, lyrical dance motifs becoming parodies of themselves, and the players responded intuitively to all the nuances. Hushed phrases in the melancholy third movement had an agonising intensity, and indeed the pianissimo themes were as impressive as the fortissimo moments. For the fourth movement, full strength was regained, the music battering its hearers with a visceral intensity.
David Hedges commanded his forces with his usual attention to detail, and a well-judged overall plan of tempi and dynamics. He had given a fascinating pre-concert talk about this mighty work, and we were able to pick out all the details of motifs and melodies that he had illustrated for us.
But this was just half of a very intriguing concert. Before the interval we heard Hummel’s Trumpet Concert in E♭ major. Stuart Paul was the assured soloist, brilliantly showing off the trumpet’s technical virtuosity – as the composer had intended. The orchestra moved sensitively between accompanying and supporting the soloist, and flourishing assertively when playing alone. Ensemble playing was excellent throughout, with the slow movement being particularly fluent and engaging.
And as a starter we heard Beethoven’s imposing Coriolan Overture, a dramatic and sonorous start to the evening. The players’ rhythmic certainty gave clarity to the restless and jagged melodies of this turbulent work.
All in all, an evening of live, large-scale, orchestral music to remember. Sue Goodman 23.10.17