Review: Orchestral Concert

A packed Ellis Theatre greeted the String Chamber Orchestra, with obbligato soloists Savannah Brown, Eleanor Bonney and Ben Christopher for the eleventh concerto from Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico.

The opening dialogue of arpeggios was in safe hands with Savannah and Eleanor, and this confident start was maintained throughout the piece, with remarkable ensemble playing from what is perhaps the largest String Chamber Orchestra of recent times. The driving energy of the fugue in the Allegro gave way to the hauntingly beautiful Largo, showcasing the sensitivity of the accompanying strings before returning to an assured performance of the final Allegro and well-deserved warm applause.

A rousing version of Copland’s Hoe Down followed, with the String Chamber Orchestra transporting us to the Wild West with this rhythmic and spirited performance.  A demanding piece of repertoire, the players nevertheless managed to stay firmly in the saddle under Adrian Eales’ baton.

The full Symphony Orchestra joined the stage for Alford’s On the Quarter Deck march and called to mind the Band of the Royal Marines, such was the immaculate timing and controlled dynamics of the performance.   It was a chance for brass and percussion to shine and the piece was undoubtedly well polished.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol was greeted no less warmly than on its première in 1887. This intriguing piece showed the orchestra in its full colours and offered the opportunity for many of the section principals to display their considerable musicality. Hints of flamenco rhythms with castanets in the final Fandango culminated in a triumphant conclusion.

Philip Dukes whetted our appetites for Wagner’s Overture from the Mastersingers, heralding it as “one of the greatest romantic overtures ever written: everything you need without going to the opera”. The audience were not disappointed. Resonant brass (including a splendid tuba line) combined with the string section responding to the conductor’s requests for a big sound, resulted in a professional sounding orchestra. Beautifully articulated woodwind, most effective percussion and several notable solo lines completed a most convincing performance.

Rapturous applause from an appreciative audience ensured a reprise of On the Quarter Deck to round off a memorable evening of music making at Marlborough College. Copland’s Lincoln Portrait and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in the College’s side by side concert with the Southbank Sinfonia on 11 February 2014 will surely be an occasion not to be missed.

Amanda Brown

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