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Review: Bath Symphony Orchestra The Guildhall

Bath Chronicle  Friday, December 02, 2011

The Orchestra had a welcome spring in its step in this first performance under new conductor Eugene Monteith - a brief biog in the programme would have been helpful - as they opened with Rossini's Barber of Seville Overture, full of well-known tunes and bravura crescendos. A positive statement of intent which sizzled with energy and some excellent string playing, the violins and violas crisp and clean, the ensemble really together: the brass did their thing too, especially trumpets and trombones. A performance that Signor Crescendo himself would have enjoyed.

Bruch's Violin Concerto is, deservedly, a favourite and Madeleine Mitchell gave us a reading which combined intensity with a sympathy for its elegance and the lyrical heart of the work, building up into the big climax with passion, yet controlled and fluent. Despite - or perhaps because of its familiarity, it was immensely satisfying and enveloping, with a very sympathetic orchestral accompaniment that supported without ever dominating, beautifully balanced and played with artistry and warmth.

Sibelius 2 is a serious marker of the composer's development - how contrasting ideas evolve into a work which has a clear underlying unity. It combines cheerful folk-tunes with a brooding melancholy before soaring away in the 3rd and 4th movements into a majestic finale. This was a performance that allowed each section of the orchestra to show us its quality with some exquisite woodwind playing, plangent and urgent, setting up the strings and brass in very satisfying contrast. The big theme came through, full of breadth and grandeur in a substantial recreation of this big weighty piece. A performance which had buoyancy and depth, darkness and light, combined very effectively. And it had a clear sense of purpose - a vision of how this might be achieved. They are producing a really good sound but the Guildhall acoustic is simply not big enough to give it the space it needs. There are better spaces which would be worth serious consideration.

Peter Lloyd Williams

Bath Symphony Orchestra :

Wiltshire Music Centre
The BSO were clearly looking to find top form for this valedictory appearance under David Price, whose leadership has transformed their playing over the past ten years.

The opening Tchaikovsky 2 was a very appealing recreation of one of his most attractive symphonies, full of folk tunes, and unmistakeably Russian.
As David Price said, this work is the composer's way of underlining his Russian credentials, and it has a lively good humour, and big sounds which stretched the hall's acoustic.

The brass and percussion were full of extrovert brio, with some fine string playing too in the Andante: the final Allegro Vivo certainly lived up to its name, intense and dramatic.

Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite, with its well-known insistent waltz had some fine moments, including a rather wistful Romance before the final Galop, complete with splendid clarinet cadenza took us presto furioso to its breathless climax.

It was full of controlled energy and the strings again produced a smooth, scrupulously balanced firm texture.
What is there left to say about Stravinsky's Firebird?

It hit the Parisian public like a sledgehammer, 100 years ago and what a gamble Diaghilev took in commissioning this young unknown composer. Pavlova refused the star part: she thought the music was "just noise".Noisy it certainly is, but set in a way no one had heard before, and it was a huge instant success.

This was a stirring performance of the Suite, with superb woodwind and brass again, giving vivid life to the unexpected turns and twists of Stravinsky's trenchant powerful discords and jagged rhythms.

A real test for the players, and they did David Price proud.

It is interesting to conjecture whether, in 2111, we shall be listening as intently to, say Harrison Birtwhistle or any of the so-called minimalists like Cage and Reich and whether their music will still have the same impact then as Firebird has now.

Meanwhile, adieu David Price: he will be missed. How will the new conductor Eugene Monteith fare, I wonder? So, I am sure, do the players: we wish him well.

Peter Lloyd Williams

Bath Symphony Orchestra:

The Forum, Bath

Wagner and controversy are inseparable. Woody Allen commented: "I can't listen to too much Wagner. I start to get the urge to conquer Poland." Another acerbic critic likened him to Marmite: you love him or loathe him.

Conductor David Price is clearly an admirer. We had an exploration of Tannhauser punctuated with short extracts, before hearing the complete Overture in all its erotic lustful extravagance, until our hero is redeemed and his salvation assured.

Then Sibelius and the Karelia Suite with its horn opening and busy strings, followed by a typically wintry second movement Ballade, introducing a sombre note. Then the well-known final March, full of life, catching the eternal spirit of Finland. It was a very authentic performance that Sibelius would have approved, with its echoes of his beloved homeland, and some fine playing, with trumpets and trombones in especially good form..

The second half ...

Walton Symphony No 1 was an ambitious choice, large in scale and conception, providing a technical challenge for each section of the orchestra. The opening horns and oboe, then violins, gave notice of the originality of Walton's musical voice, the energy and trademark discords. Then the sheer nastiness of the Scherzo, marked with "with malice", gives way to the sense of melancholy in the Andante, suggesting the end, perhaps, of a love affair with a German princess. The final Maestoso, based on a fugual subject, builds up into a full-scale frontal assault, all guns blazing, and a splendid climax. It was a performance which had some impressive moments, again from the trumpets, trombones and lower strings, while the timps had a field day. It is a work which shows the young Walton learning his symphonic craft and David Price's reading of it was carefully considered and full of dynamic contrast, as well as showing us the more interesting byways that are so characteristic of Walton's music. A big work, not often heard nowadays, given a big performance here, and it deserved a better attendance.