Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

11 February 2020

Performing Bruckner’s ‘Symphony No 4’ for the first time is a landmark moment for a horn player and it was wonderful to have the chance to do so with the Northampton Symphony Orchestra last Saturday. The ‘Romantic Symphony’ is a mammoth work: it lasts 65 minutes and the 1st horn is playing for most of that time. It’s a major test of stamina and nerves – particularly the exposed solo at the beginning of the first movement. Having prepared myself carefully for the opening note I was slightly thrown by our conductor, John Gibbons, who gave a fascinating but lengthy description of the piece to the audience before we started playing. My first few notes were a little wobbly but once I got going I think the symphony went extremely well. It was brilliant to be part of a magnificent horn section: the final bars of the first movement, the hunting calls of the Scherzo and the end of the final movement felt thrilling. The whole orchestra rose to the challenge of the symphony very impressively with some lovely woodwind solos and stunning playing by the viola section. But, sorry guys, this time it really was mostly about the horns! The first half of the concert featured the rousing ‘Flying Dutchman Overture’ by Richard Wagner and the ‘Duet-Concertino for Clarinet and Bassoon’ by Richard Strauss. This rarely heard work is a lovely miniature double concerto with the two solo instruments accompanied by strings and harp. Our soloists, Cathal Killeen on clarinet and William Gold on bassoon, were outstanding. I loved the theatricality of their performance as they reached across to page-turn for each other. At one point Cathal walked across to share William’s music stand during a passage of playful conversation between the two instruments. It was interesting to spot some themes in the final movement that also appear in another late work by Strauss – the 'Sonatina no. 2 for 16 Winds' ('From the Happy Workshop') which I played with the Heliotrope Chamber Ensemble in 2016 (reviewed here in April 2016). The NSO performance of the Duet-Concertino was excellent – delicate and extremely entertaining.

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