Review of August 2017 Concert

MASTERLY CELLO CONCERTO PERFORMANCE

The St Matthews Church was well filled for the August concert, and the audience were served up with a very satisfying feast of music.  Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis was the first item. Tallis is believed to have been born around 1505 and is famous as the “father” of English choral music.  He held a post at Canterbury Cathedral and later became the Gentleman in Residence at the Chapel Royal.  He lived to the age of 80, dying in 1585. Ralph Vaughan Williams conducted the first performance of his “Fantasia” on a Tallis Theme in 1910 at the Gloucester Cathedral.   His composition is unique in that it is written for three separate groups, a full string orchestra, a smaller orchestra, and a string quartet, all placed apart from each other.  The SMCO did not attempt this layout but the performance that they presented was immensely satisfying.  The orchestral parts are so cleverly written that one is not aware of how spread the notes are in the presentation of the theme and variations. This performance had such a mesmerising influence on the audience that at the finish there was a stunned silence for several seconds before the audience gathered to show its appreciation.

Hungarian composer, Erno Dohnanyi flowered early as a child prodigy and grew up to become a famous pianist, conductor and composer.  Although he used folk music in his compositions, he was never considered a Nationalist composer in the way that Bartok and Kodaly were.  Living in Germany he took the name Ernst von Dohnanyi, the “von” indicating “nobility”.  After World War 2 he suffered somewhat unjustly the accusation that he was a “Nazi Sympathiser”, but in fact he had helped many Jewish musicians to avoid Nazi persecution.  He later emigrated to the USA and for ten years he lectured at Florida University.  He died there in 1960 and was buried at Tallahassee.  As a child he was used to hearing his father play the cello, and so he was motivated to write the Konzertstuck in 1904.   This is a one-movement work of some 25 minutes, and it calls for a very capable cellist to master its technical difficulties.   Eliah Sakakushev-von Bismarck’s virtuoso performance captured the audience and he was given clamorous applause.   Dohnanyi’s composition was wall-to-wall melody from start to finish and was a worthy inclusion in the programme.

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony must surely be the most well-known piece of classical music ever written.  Its prophetic four note introduction is repeated again and again throughout the work.  It took the composer the best part of four years to fine tune it until he was fully satisfied with the end result.  During the Second World War it was known as the “Victory Symphony” for several reasons.   “V” is the Roman numeral for 5, and the dit-dit-dit-dah rhythm is the Morse code signal for the letter V.   The BBC broadcasts to Europe during the war began with the same rhythm played on the drums.   Michael Joel’s handling of this work was exemplary and it is by no means an easy work to conduct.   The orchestra too played with verve and vigour and the final result was most satisfying.  The final movement provided a wonderful crescendo with the Trombones, contra-bassoon and piccolo joining the rest of the orchestra to drive the work to a very powerful conclusion.

Robert O’Hara