Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

3 May 2017

I first encountered the stunning young Latvian pianist Arta Arnicane in June 2014 when she joined the Northampton Symphony Orchestra to give a remarkable performance of two Gershwin pieces, 'Rhapsody in Blue' and the 'I Got Rhythm' variations for piano and orchestra (reviewed here in June 2014). That concert is still fondly remembered by members of the orchestra and our audience, in particular for Arta’s encore, 'The Serpent's Kiss' – a Rag Fantasy by William Bolcom, which drew gasps, laughter, rapturous applause and a standing ovation. On Saturday Arta Arnicane was back in Northampton to play the ‘Piano Concerto No 3’ by Bela Bartok – an incredibly challenging work which required intense concentration by all of us in the orchestra, but which Arta seemed to float through with ease. The delicate slow movement, in particular, was beautifully moving: it was a very impressive performance. The first half of the concert also featured William Alwyn’s ‘Symphony no. 5 “Hydriotaphia”’. Our conductor, John Gibbons, is a champion of the Northampton-born composer, Alwyn: we played his piece ‘The Magic Island' (inspired by 'The Tempest') in the NSO’s Shakespeare celebration, 'The Bard's Birthday Bash' last year (reviewed here in April 2016). Alwyn’s 5th Symphony is an entertaining, programmatic work which builds on his extensive experience as a composer of film music. Rhythmically and harmonically unpredictable, it presented some similar challenges to the Bartok but I enjoyed getting to know it and the symphony seemed to go down well with our audience. The second half of the concert contained two much more familiar works, Mussorgsky’s ‘A Night on a Bald Mountain’ as well as the mighty ‘Symphony No 5’ by Sibelius, continuing our season of 5th symphonies. Considered by some to be the greatest symphony of the 20th century, Sibelius’ 5th is a gorgeous melting pot of harmonies with some lovely moments for us horn players. It was a fascinating concert which saw the orchestra rise to a series of very different challenges. You can get a flavour of several elements of Saturday’s concert by watching this 2014 performance of William Alywn’s ‘Piano Concerto No 2’ by Arta Arnicane with the Ealing Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Gibbons:

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