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

Review

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

Review

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