SMCO 40th Anniversary Concert review

Paul Dukas is best known for his Sorcerers Apprentice, and although his fanfare for La Peri was not originally included in the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra Subscription Series programme, its inclusion was serendipity. Just over 2 minutes in length, it provided a dynamic introduction and in the very live acoustics of St Matthews Church it kicked this programme off with great impact, as well as featuring the particular talents of the Wind and Brass section of the Orchestra . The fanfare has a crisp brilliance and incorporates some dissonant harmonies which somehow seem to be oddly appropriate in this context. It has become popular as a TV programme theme tune in North America.

Next up was Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks Display. This music was commissioned by King George II and a large crowd gathered to hear it being rehearsed in London’s Vauxhall Gardens several days before it was due to be performed on 27th April 1749. Since then it has had a number of arrangements, particularly by Leopold Stokowski and Sir Hamilton Harty, who was for a long time chief conductor of the Halle Orchestra. The opening movement is marked Maestoso (to be played in stately fashion). This had an uncharacteristically ragged beginning from the orchestra, and one wonders if the hackneyed popularity of the piece led the orchestra to skimp on rehearsal time. However they got things together and the second, third and fourth movements were tighter and lighter. It finished in appropriately grand ceremonial style.

The Brahms concerto for violin and cello proved to be the highlight of the concert. In the opening section of this work the plaintive cor anglais featured and then the cello soloist introduced the musical themes with the violin responding. Both soloists played some spectacular double stopping, which at times sounded like four solo instruments playing as a quartet. This concerto was composed when Brahms had attained maturity in his compositional life and the romantic beauty of his musical ideas contributed to the lasting popularity of this work. His passionate love of Hungarian gypsy music was evident in some of the fragmentary themes that were incorporated in the final movement. Cello soloist Rachel Atkinson and Violinist Isin Cakmakcioglu are husband and wife and their affinity with this work and their combined virtuosity was a real joy to experience. They received well deserved acclaim from a record audience. Indeed it is to the orchestra’s credit that they are able to attract such talented soloists to feature in their concert series.

The final item in this programme was the Cesar Franck Symphony in D Minor. In the opening lento movement, the bass instruments introduce the melody with the bass clarinet contributing to a rather sombre mood, this is developed and moves on to some more boisterous music, which builds up to a stately climax. During the symphony it ebbs and flows with a rather plaintive three note theme that is passed from one section of the orchestra to another in cyclical fashion. Franck uses this almost like a leitmotif giving it different instrumentation and harmonies but maintaining the tautness of the mood that he creates throughout the work. The cor anglais is used to feature the main theme and pizzicato strings are used very effectively.

This symphony projects a great depth of feeling throughout and it deserves to be heard more often.

To celebrate its 40th Anniversary the orchestra invited its supporters to join it at the conclusion of the programme to enjoy wine and cheese. Patrons were able to enjoy CoopersCreek wines a variety of cheese and mingle with the players. This is a significant milestone of which the Orchestra can be justly proud. I look forward to more imaginative programmes in 2013

Reviewed by Bob O’Hara