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Bath Symphony Orchestra, The Guildhall, Bath
Friday, November 27, 2009, 

Mozart's Haffner Symphony is always a tonic. It spins along with all the exuberance of a 20-year-old in a hurry, punctuated by an easy stylish Andante some fine bassoon playing here âbefore erupting into the final Presto, brassy and extrovert, taking in a lilting Rondo on the way. It was a big robustly satisfying sound.

Then a real novelty, for violin and double bass, played by Catherine Lord and David Heyes, both perched on a platform and both standing. It was written by Giovanni Bottesini, a 19th century Italian virtusos, who seems to have inherited the mantle of his fellow-countryman, another double bass virtuoso, Domenico Dragonetti, born about sixty years earlier.

This Grand Duo Concertante is a showpiece designed to illustrate what the instrument can achieve in expert hands: and it is not surprising that Paganini liked what he heard and had it rescored from the original two double basses to violin and double bass, so that he could have fun with it too. And it is fun, full of good tunes, the double bass sounding rather cello-like, mobile and high in the range, wonderfully well played, the dazzling passage-work splendidly executed with cheerful geniality, with the violin making its own distinctive contribution. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it though when are we likely to hear it again?

The second half brought us a rare outing for Beethoven's Overture The Consecration of the House. This is a relatively late work which builds up from a maestoso introduction to a stirring big-scale fugal finale, with the brass at full bore. It was an interesting example of Beethoven gathering himself for what he was to produce in the remaining five years of his life, most notably the Ninth Symphony and the late quartets. The orchestra gave us a dramatic and rousing performance.

Schumann's Third Symphony is full of joy and sunlight, amid a profusion of melodic ideas. It moves from the big opening, through a succession of dance-like, smaller-scale orchestration, and an impressive display of polyphonic writing to a buoyantly ebullient conclusion. This is to be music to be thoroughly enjoyed, and the orchestra, under David Price's scholarly direction, gave a fine account of it, the dynamics well shaped and the changing moods deftly observed. It ought to be heard more often and next year, the 200th anniversary of Schumann's birth, perhaps his voice will get a more frequent airing.

Peter Lloyd Williams


Bath Symphony Orchestra excelled itself with an evening of humour, brilliance, romance and high drama.

As the packed audience at the Wiltshire Music Centre dispersed into the summer rain on Friday night there was a palpable sense of pleasure and excitement.

The evening started, not with the familiar seriousness of Brahms, but with his sunny and irreverent Academic Festival Overture.

Here the orchestra sparkled in an energetic and rousing performance showing off all sections to their best. This was a rollicking performance, and well introduced by playing in advance the four drinking songs on which the work is based, and which some in the audience may have forgotten from their youth.

So many superlatives come to mind to describe the playing of Costos Fotopoulos in the third Rachmaninov piano concerto: the effect was simply stunning.

According to the Guiness Book of Records Rachmaninov's hands could stretch 13 notes on the piano and he had an extraordinarily long thumb. Costos Fotopoulos had no such advantages yet he played with an ease that made this most difficult of concertos appear improvised. The colossal chords, the wonderfully haunting lyricism and the sparkling eloquence of the piano was matched by an impressive performance from the orchestra. The orchestra played with energy and conviction, though at times the piano did not come clearly enough through the orchestral sound.

The evening concluded with the Borodin second symphony where the orchestra captured well the high drama and driving rhythm of the first movement. Woodwind and brass gave a spirited performance in the scherzo, imitating the gusts of laughter intended by Borodin, followed by a beautifully played slow movement where the singing of a bard was evoked by clarinet, horn and harp.

Robert Bailey


Bath Symphony Orchestra, The Forum Bath

Cherchez la femme, conductor David Price told us in his crisply informative introduction to Beethoven's 8th Symphony, which explained the rather uncharacteristically genial, even high-spirited mood of the work. Beethoven was evidently smitten, though the lady is unknown and his well-documented irascibility gave way to warmth.

After a rather tentative start from the upper strings, the performance developed into a well-balanced set of four contrasting movements, moving through a serene allegretto and lilting minuet to a rousing final Allegro vivace with uproarious flamboyant brass, showing their paces in fine style.
Mahler 1 could hardly be more different, yet here again, his amours give the piece much of its colour and emotional power.
The opening woodwind and brass tell us of Mahler's fascination with the natural world and it leads on to a parody of a well known children's story, The Huntsman's Funeral, in the form of a dead march.

The ensemble playing here gelled very well, the strings sombre and the brass broad.
The final Allegro furioso reveals Mahler's profound disturbance at the ending of one love affair and the start of another: and its turbulent energy builds up to a tumultuous climax, with all eight horns on their feet, giving us a tremendous blast of sound.

The piece was an ambitious choice and the players rose to it with energy and enthusiasm.