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Bath Symphony Orchestra, with John Mills;

This is Bath, 22 November 2012

The Guildhall, Bath

When the B S O are in this form, the absence of a proper concert hall in Bath seems even more extraordinary. The Guildhall is a magnificent building, but totally inadequate acoustically for the splendid sound these players are now producing. They opened with the Brahms Tragic Overture, redolent with dark melancholy, and from the two percussive opening chords, we had a well-balanced, carefully contrasted tone, full of vivid colours. How very different from the Academic Festival Overture: and the mood was very well captured.Tchaikovsky 5 is full of familiar melodies and this performance gave us some of the best playing I've heard from the orchestra. The horns were in great form, and the lovely melody which opens the 2nd movement Andante was clear and haunting: indeed all the brass had a great evening, alongside some excellent string playing, the ensemble clean and accurate. The woodwind were as good as ever, the clarinet and oboe solos particularly persuasive. And the final movement, with its restatement of the main theme by the lower strings, was warmly confident. It was a well constructed performance and it had the controlled dramatic force which was too much this relatively restricted space. What a fine, dynamic sound and how the audience loved it.

Conductor Eugene Monteith can be very pleased with the development of the orchestra under his clear informed direction. I enjoyed John Mills reading of the Glazunov Violin Concerto though alas the searchlight behind him prevented me seeing his playing. This is an attractive work, played through in one movement, with a substantial and taxing cadenza done with stylish virtuosity. It has life and rhythmic energy, and the band was with him all the way, as he teased out every facet of the Concerto's alternating pensive and joyful humour. A thoroughly expressive performance. A final note of farewell to leader Tim Robb, who is stepping down after a distinguished period of service. He will, though, still be playing, but hidden, he says, among the violas.

Peter Lloyd Williams


Review: Bath Symphony Orchestra - The Forum

Bath Chronicle - Monday, March 12, 2012

Perhaps it is the Irish influence, reinforced with a substantial infusion of Welsh hwyl and youthful exuberance which has wrought a transformation in the sound this band is making. And it is a big band - 85 names on the programme, with a fullness and freshness which filled the Forum.

The Mussorgski Pictures at an Exhibition is a diverse series of images, depicting his impressions as he looked through the work of his great friend Victor Hartmann. They are filled with contrasting colours, using the full orchestral palette, with some lovely woodwind playing which showed the French influence inherent in Ravel's orchestration, including a plangent saxophone solo and haunting bassoon. Everyone has a turn, the brass in good form too, trumpets and horns, not always the strong point in this orchestra, opening the Promenade and finishing at the Great Gate of Kiev with a splendid flourish. The ballet was especially effective, lilting and graceful with the tambourine giving it life and zest.

Elgar 2 provided the second half, and here the strings came into their own, with the new formation working well. I've not heard a better ensemble from the upper strings, giving the performance vibrant life, especially in the Adagio, full of tender wistfulness. The Lento opening to the 4th movement was charged with brooding anxiety, before we moved into the strident Allegro Finale, full of urgent action. This is Elgar at his most characteristically English, the breadth and grandeur of the opening theme making its own unmistakeable statement. Above all, the performance had a palpable sense of unity, under conductor Eugene Monteith, which was immensely satisfying. What a pity this concert clashed with Milos Karadaglic in the Abbey. It deserved a bigger audience.

Peter Lloyd Williams