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Press quotes (2013) ...

Bath Symphony Orchestra, New Worlds,

The Guildhall, November 21 2013

Nielsen's Helios Overture was an interesting, relatively little known opener, with its growling bass introduction: and once the horns had overcome a rather tentative start, it burgeoned into a song of praise to the sun, full of energy and radiant life.

Just as well, on a wet and windy evening!

Schumann 's Cello Concerto, too, is not a frequent presence on the cellists round. The three movements are performed in one uninterrupted sequence, and the composer cleverly contrasts energy and dreamy romance with a buoyant, exuberant final Rondo, surging with high spirits. Alas, seated at the back, my sight line was blocked and I couldn't see the soloist, Alice Neary, or hear very clearly, the Guildhall acoustic again, at its most obfuscatory.

But the quieter second movement showed us a warm resonant cello sound, accompanied with sympathy and careful insight by the orchestra: the woodwind were in particularly good voice.

The Dvorak's New World Symphony is perhaps his best known and this reading had the ebullience and pulsating vigour we have come to expect.

The brass especially, had a high old time ,some tentative horns again, but trumpets and trombones giving a fine account of themselves, alongside the percussion: and the cor anglais solo was beautifully played, touching the emotions as it always does.

The strings were not perhaps as well integrated as usual: and there were one or two tuning problems, but the overall effect carried the forceful robust insistence which is the hallmark of the work, as the final Allegro con fuoco whirled to its close. Conductor Eugene Monteith seemed very pleased with the performance, though perhaps with one or two areas to have a look at. A good full audience loved it, as the whistles and shouts clearly showed.

Peter Lloyd Williams

 

Bath Symphony Orchestra - Russian Masters Season

Wiltshire Music Centre, 7 June 2013

The opening piece, Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question posed its own conundrum: had the composer an hitherto unknown Russian connection? It's a witty little combination of growling strings, punctuated with a questioning random trumpet and woodwind.  It intrigued the audience and prompted our interest: a good start, deftly played.

Saint-Saens 4th Piano Concerto was a real tour de force, played by Paul McKenzie with all the technical virtuosity and intensity this formidable work requires. We shall hope to hear him again. The contrast between the gentle Andante, with its plangent woodwind, and the surging passionate energy of the Allegro vivace was particularly effective. The climax was a tremendous burst of joyful, exuberant sound. The string playing, under leader Alison Donnelly, was especially good and I enjoyed the brass too. This was a performance which gripped the listeners and held them enthralled, buzzing with admiration over their interval drinks.

Shostakovich 5 is a monumental work, written during the worst of the Stalinist purges in the 1930s, when the composer's freedom of expression was constantly under threat. It has a sombre darkness and tension in the opening Moderato: and its big melodies are accompanied by discordant harmonic progressions, clearly indicating the pressure Shostakovich was under to produce music acceptable to the apparatchiks and their system. Remarkably, the work has a singular coherence, expressing a force which is palpable yet conveying what the composer needed to say  and this performance brought out the essence of the situation he wanted to represent.  Conductor Eugene Monteith had a clear perception of the sound his players should produce and they gave him a really big performance: the agony of the Largo and the colossal sound of the Allegro non troppo tested the acoustic to its limit. Yet it had a unity enhanced by some fine playing from a thoroughly committed concentrated orchestra which produced a well deserved enthusiastic response from a good audience.

Peter Lloyd Williams

 

Bath Symphony Orchestra

The Forum, Bath - 7 March 2013

Bath Symphony Orchestra gave a highly engaging performance at Bath's Forum on Thursday 7th March. Under the baton of the talented Eugene Monteith, the orchestra played two substantial works from the Romantic repertoire; Dvorak's The Golden Spinning Wheel and Rachmaninov's Second Symphony. Whilst the programme may have been ambitious for any amateur orchestra, the choice of repertoire allowed BSO to showcase its considerable wealth of talent. The concert also marked the appointment of the orchestra's new leader Alison Donnelly.

The start of the concert was delayed due to traffic problems in the local area. Consequently, the arrival on stage of two percussionists at literally the moment of Monteith's upbeat to the Dvorak's Golden Spinning Wheel resulted in spontaneous applause and only added to the friendly spirit displayed by the audience. As it turns out, the percussionist's part is integral in adding colour to the orchestration at the opening of The Golden Spinning Wheel, and much would have been lost if the piece had started without them! Dvorak's work opened in a lively and spirited manner, with the strings clearly articulating the polyrhythms which give the work the momentum suggested in the programmatic title. Melody and timbre are two integral elements within Dvorak's composition, and the breadth of intoxicating melodic colours found in the score helped demonstrate the talent of the woodwind section, with brightly articulated solos a notable highlight of the performance. The orchestra retained their energy and vigour until the end, with Monteith winding up the ensemble to a powerful tutti finish.

Rachmaninov's Second Symphony is an enormously popular work, but also challenging, both technically and musically for an ensemble. Once again, the orchestra played with controlled intonation. The third movement (Adagio) was lyrical and expressive throughout, with a very well executed clarinet solo. Further solo passages were well articulated by the principal string and wind players. Monteith's range of tempi appeared very well considered; the music was exciting and engaging without compromising on clarity of rhythm and texture. Throughout this substantial work, the cello section proved to be a particular highlight and really ought to be afforded special mention. They played with a rich, warm sound throughout. Congratulations to the orchestra on a very successful performance of some highly demanding repertoire!

Mark David Boden, 2013