June 15th 2019 – Queen’s College, Taunton 7.30pm
Conductor – David Hedges
Dvorak – Golden Spinning Wheel
Strauss – Serenade for Wind Ensemble
SCO’s summer concert last Saturday featured the late-Romantic repertoire, with one popular favourite and two lesser-known pieces.
The young Richard Strauss wrote his Serenade in Eb for Wind Ensemble at the age of just 17. It shows the promise of the mature Strauss, and, with four French horns out of 13 players, has a characteristic Straussian sound. It was a nicely balanced performance, with gentle interplay between the instruments. Precision playing was almost too precise, once could say tending towards jerkiness. Certainly a little more blending would have improved the sound for me.
Next came another rarity (by which I mean, new to me) in the form of Dvorak’s symphonic poem The Golden Spinning Wheel. The Orchestra was much enlarged, with numerous strings, added woodwind, extra percussion and a harp. Nevertheless, the overall ensemble did not suffer, all players committed to producing a magnificent sound. The work is based on a gruesome folk tale, dramatically voiced by narrator Steve Evans (standing in at short notice). The orchestra’s storytelling was also first rate, there was emotional engagement with the story throughout, the melodic ideas passed seamlessly from section to section. Vivid musical scenes encompassed pastoral calm, romantic love, betrayal, menace, magic, tragedy and ultimate reconciliation. The players worked hard to maintain our interest at points where, to be frank, the scoring became repetitive or pedestrian.
After the interval we heard the hit of the show, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. There was a time, several years ago, when this lovely work was considered very “infra dig”. Those who knew about classical music dismissed it as a childish piece – you weren’t supposed to admit to liking it. Luckily, we are much more inclusive these days, and celebrate good music with superb performances such as this one. The large orchestra again rose to the challenge of this extended symphonic suite, playing with verve and panache throughout. As a series of dramatic scenes, with Russian and oriental influences, there was scope for both lush ensemble playing and several telling solo lines from woodwinds and first violin. The overall impression was of players fully engaged with the music, energetic, and playing with confidence and purpose. Much credit must go to David Hedges for conducting in his usual clear and calm manner, while knowing exactly what is required, and to Alex Ennis for the gorgeous violin solos representing the heroine herself.
Sue Goodman, June 2019
Saturday 16th March 2019 – Queen’s College, Taunton 7.30pm
Conductor – David Hedges Soloist – Elizabeth Hayley
Copland – Appalachian Spring
Grieg – Piano Concerto
Saint Saens – Symphony no 3
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