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Mark Boden : Guildhall - November 2014

Bath Symphony Orchestra's Autumn concert contained a well-balanced programme featuring some familiar classics of the orchestral canon with lesser-known romantic works.

The concert opened with Weber's Der Freisch and after a tentative start, the performance contained many enjoyable moments, with warm homogenous horn sonorities being complimented by the richness of the strings. The orchestra grew ever-confident in the energetic tutti passages which were highly animated. This performance brought the score to life, much aided by the ensemble's sensitivity towards balance of dynamics and a clear sense of contrast between themes.

Bath Symphony Orchestra were then joined by Nick Whiting Associate Leader of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for a performance of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. The piece was lively and animated throughout. Although ensemble was an issue the soloist remained undeterred despite the orchestra's variation in tempi.

A particular highlight in the first movement was Whiting's cadenza; a masterclass in string-crossing, glittering harmonics and rapid finger work.

The final movement was lively, light and playful, though once again the ensemble occasionally lagged behind the soloist.The lightness of Whiting's sparkling violin solo was complimented most effectively by the warmth of the cello themes and the strength of sound throughout the entire string section; the latter point being one of the highlights of the entire evening.

Throughout the concert the BSO strings produced the warmest, most richly colourful and yet homogenous sound that I have heard in the three years of watching this orchestra.

Beethoven's The Consecration of the House was full of energy and vigour with highly successful tempi choices, well graded dynamic contours and clearly-balanced expressive qualities. The woodwinds sounded bright and alert and their doubling of string melodies added much colour to the performance. The piece also provided another decent workout for the strings, with brass punctuating with precision at cadence points whilst also showing restraint where necessary and responding effectively to the conductor's baton. Monteith's interpretation of the score resulted in a highly engaging performance which demonstrated a very strong sense of ensemble playing throughout.

Nielsen's Symphony No.1 was an excellent programming choice, not simply because it is seldom performed, but because of the way the work was able to showcase the individual and collective talents of Bath Symphony Orchestra. The tight melodic and harmonic structures of score were beautifully executed, allowing the audience to be thoroughly absorbed in washes of orchestras colour from start to finish.

Mark Boden, Nov, 2014


Review: Bath Symphony Orchestra at Wiltshire Music Centre

11:35am Monday 9th June 2014

By Reg Burnard

It is by no means dismissive of the contribution by the whole orchestra but the solos and exposed work of various sections of this large ensemble were the outstanding performances of a thoroughly workmanlike concert.

Rimsky-Korsakov's Symphonic Suite, Op 35, Scheherazade, is a heaven-sent showcase.

Orchestra leader Alison Boden naturally has the lions share and she rose to the task with grace and professionalism.

Conductor Eugene Montieth - of whom, strangely not a word in the programme - was right to single out for particular applause his various sections: Woodwind, brass, horns and percussion. And a gratifyingly full house responded with enthusiasm.

Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave, from the Hebrides overture set the nautical tone for the evening leading into Britten's Four Sea Interludes (from Peter Grimes).

Montieth has an almost nonchalant conducting appearance with little histrionics.

It is obviously an approach which works for BSO: Although a few more dynamic highs and lows might have imbued a little more texture the whole feeling was of a hugely satisfying presentation.



Bath Symphony Orchestra's ambitious Austro-Germanic programme of works by Bruckner, Wagner and Strauss proved to be a highly enjoyable performance.

The evening started with Strauss's Serenade for Winds which was very well received by the audience. This piece highlighted what would unfortunately be a reoccurring issue of the evening; that of the poor acoustic of the concert hall. As a result, players needed to fight against this challenging, dry environment which was compounded by a curtain covering the length of the back of the stage. Some warmth in tone was inevitably lost, and whilst several tuning issues existed, these did not detract from the performance. Overall, the interpretations may have benefited from increased dynamic shaping and variety in order to enhance the drama and intensity of the serenade.

In Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, the strings demonstrated a great deal of control, especially in the more intimate sections of the score. Intonation during the more exposed and challenging passages was clear and consistent; woodwind solos sang beautifully over the rest of the ensemble and the lyricism of these lines were very well-expressed. The sense of ensemble seemed most focused in the climatic passages within Wagner's symphonic poem, where even the fastest and most complex orchestral flourishes sounded very impressive. The piece also provided an opportunity to showcase the talents of the orchestra's horn players and their closing duo was very well executed.

Bruckner's Fourth Symphony, a work of epic scale, epitomised the ambition within this talented amateur orchestra. Often referred to as the Romantic symphony, the work juxtaposes intimately scored passages of texture with extensive tutti climaxes, which the brass section in particular seemed to relish!

The first movement displayed some very secure woodwind solos, notably from the principal clarinet and flute players. Trumpets and trombones were also especially effective here, with bright, clear intonation throughout their powerful climatic passages; the level of embouchure control from the principle trumpet player deserves much credit. The opening movement finished with a highly effective flourish from the horn section within a carefully balanced orchestral tutti.

The second movement, which suggests a veiled funeral march, opened with an expressive and well-controlled cello solo. Given my earlier reservations about the acoustic qualities of the venue, those players involved in creating expressive intimate passages throughout the concert should be highly praised. The movement also confirmed a general observation of the evening; the louder the sound produced by the orchestra, the tighter the sense of ensemble was and the more secure the intonation.

The rhythmic energy and intensity of the third movement was very well captured by conductor Eugene Monteith. Bath Symphony Orchestra seemed to revel in their enthusiastic execution of tutti passages once more within both this movement and the opening of the finale. Strong musicianship was displayed here, with controlled pizzicato playing in the lower strings providing a stable rhythmic ostinato from which the upper strings could weave their harmonies. Well-articulated horns and carefully balanced tutti passages full of strength and vigor further complimented the performance and Monteith's interpretation of Bruckner's score.

I was left full of admiration for this amateur orchestra of 70 plus players, who were able to produce such an exciting and engaging performance, buoyed on by Monteith's energetic direction from the baton. Bath Symphony Orchestra should be commended for their bold programming of ambitious and challenging works. The orchestra contains some highly talented musicians, and is evidently well-supported by the abundant musicianship and commitment of their conductor, leader and section principals. Whilst the quality of sound and intonation was lacking in several places (not helped by unforgiving acoustics), the levels of energy the orchestra were able to generate left the substantial audience engaged throughout the very well-received concert. I thoroughly recommend watching the orchestra's exciting and varied programme in June, featuring works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Britten and Mendelssohn.