Wiltshire Music Centre – 8 June 2019

Delius, Grieg and Halvorsen

There’s no way you’d think this is a non-professional orchestra.  There’s clearly a huge rapport between players and conductor, Eugene Monteith.  They encompass a huge range of dynamics, swinging effortlessly from an fff to a ppp that’s no more than a whisper.  And such a range of moods too – Delius’s Walk to the Paradise Garden, full of dreamy reflections, maybe one of them capturing ideas from ‘On hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring’.  Then you’re jolted out of that soft fabric and the trance-like eloquence of the oboe playing over the strings, into a more bravura style – as if coming to terms with the real world.  It was a well-judged opener and followed by a truly impressive performance of Grieg’s Piano concerto in A minor, with Nicola Meecham.  Here there was a consistently well measured dialogue between piano and orchestra in every development of the romantic and passionate palette that we’re all so familiar with, and which was now being played out with a new freshness.

After the interval, something quite new to me and possibly the first performance in this country by a non-professional orchestra.  Halvorsen’s Symphony No.1 in C minor.  Four movements which I let drift into my consciousness without thinking very much about them and which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Some cracking good moments too with some wonderfully precise brass interjections and massive sounds that had all the movement and articulate phrasing of a professional orchestra.  Altogether a highly enjoyable evening with a nearly full house – and children.  Hurrah for that!

Antony Corfe

The Forum – 11 November 2017

Mahler Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’

Mahler is a composer known for his large scale symphonies and his second is a prime example. Quadruple forces are required in the woodwind, ten trumpets and French horns respectively, including off-stage forces. Then a choir and two soloists.

It is a huge task to undertake, yet it allowed Bath Symphony Orchestra to boast a huge number of musicians coming together – rather appropriate when the orchestra is celebrating its seventieth year.
The sense of foreboding was made apparent from the opening. The timing and ferocity of the opening cello and bass theme was incredible. The theme had bite and quite clearly set the tone of what was to come.

One of the most impressive features of the evening was the relationship between the orchestra and conductor Eugene Monteith. He had an amazing ability to control the silences, bringing the orchestra from the terrifying funeral march down to silence before bringing in the strings from nowhere. A huge undertaking, especially when visually faced with such a huge force. The strings were then able to change their sound and colour for the ethereal second theme of the movement demonstrating the
quality of the relationship between the conductor and orchestra.

The orchestra came into its own in the final two movements, like a well-oiled machine. The often chamber-like scoring of the fourth movement of the work showed off several individual members of the orchestra. Delicate woodwind entries led into the Dies Irae theme which carried across beautifully like a haunting plainchant.

Mezzosoprano soloist, Samantha Price, delivered her solo beautifully, convincing the audience of every word she sung, her rich tone carrying beautifully with the orchestra. The strings created a gentle cushion under the solo and the warm sounds of the brass especially, amongst whom she stood, created such a sense of intimacy.

The entire brass section of the orchestra should be commended on the variety and quality of sounds they were capable of. The principal trumpet, horn, and trombone players headed up talented sections whilst also delivering poignant solos throughout the symphony. The contrast of the apocalyptic offstage brass, the poignant lone trombone Resurrection theme and the rich lower brass march demonstrated the sheer quality of musicianship in the orchestra. Especially in their second hearing, the off-stage brass succeeded in creating the sound of menace echoing through the hall.

The final moments of this symphony were that of triumph. Tonight’s performance is a culmination of hard work on the part of so many musicians. A symphony whose narrative text tells of eternal life and the resurrection naturally incites the feeling that one has overcome and achieved. The entry of the organ at the end of the work resonated within everyone in the audience. Every space of the hall was filled with a deep warm sound – every musician there was adding their part to the tale. Bath Symphony Orchestra and Bristol Choral Society triumphed tonight: what a fantastic work to celebrate seventy years of music.

Bethany Nichol

Roper Theatre, Hayesfield – March 2017

Borodin, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky

A large orchestra of 72 players with their conductor Eugene Monteith, playing in the amazing new Roper Theatre at Hayesfield School.  It had the driest and least generous acoustic ever, but one which favoured the orchestra by allowing amazing clarity to all parts even where the score was richly orchestrated.  And there was plenty of that in the programme of Borodin, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky.

Borodin’s Overture ‘Prince Igor’ opened with a deep bass sonority that set the evening for me. Controlled, potent and full of a promise which was never once broken.  There were marvellous passages where, against a sea of swirling strings, there were exciting exchanges between woodwind and brass.  The solo horn was played with especially fine lyrical quality, and each of the two trumpets had a wondrous bite.  What a great starter for a concert.

Dvorak’s Symphonic Variations Op 78 opened with the so-called ‘impossible’ theme followed by 27 variations.  Monteith’s handling of it gave no trace of it being rhythmically or tonally out of the ordinary, and he gave each variation a very individual flavour whilst always retaining the underlying theme.  The imitative fugal finale had a splendid pace with entries that were precise and totally at one with the onward flow of the music.  Once again one could thank the hall’s acoustic for allowing us to hear them so clearly and for the individual musicianship of course.

The jewel in the crown was undoubtedly Tchaikovsky’s sixth and final symphony.  The ‘Pathétique’ – apparently wrongly translated from the Russian where instead it should have been ‘Passionate’.  And passionate it was.  There was a solid and never failing empathy between Monteith and the orchestra.  Everything was driving towards that final movement where, after the allegro molto vivace of the third movement, there is silence followed by that utterly despairing downward cry from the strings.  It was so moving.  And throughout the movement there was an extraordinary feeling of total shared commitment from within the heart of the orchestra, right up to the very finely worked pianississimo conclusion.  And then absolute silence.  Monumental and memorable.

Antony Corfe

Wiltshire Music Centre – November 2016

Remembering Shakespeare

The Bath Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Monteith presented a finely constructed programme of music remembering Shakespeare; a large orchestra filling the stage playing to a full house at the Wiltshire Music Centre.  Their website states that it is an amateur orchestra with a minimum entry requirement of Grade 8.  But their performance exhibited more than just that.

There was passion and freshness in their playing as they responded to sometimes huge demands to reveal all the emotions hidden within the music.  Without passion there’s no communication with an audience.  Here the magic worked and the audience were gradually drawn into that mystical response where performers and audience are as one in total empathy.

The programme was one of increasing interest, intensity and bravura.  Mendelssohn’s overture ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was a perfect starter, followed by a short, complex contemporary piece by Mark David-Boden.  The Fantasy Overture ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Tchaikovsky brought real drama to the stage.  Finally there was ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ of Berlioz. Totally wonderful because of the distinct mood changes between movements.  The simple dialogue between cor anglais and oboe in the third movement was beautiful.  The final movement brought a triumphant end to a marvellous evening.