Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

17 June 2015

During the first rehearsal of Vaughan Williams' 'Symphony No 6' with Northampton Symphony Orchestra in April, I told my fellow horn player, Ian Frankland, that not only had I never played the symphony before, I didn't think I had even heard it. The music felt unfamiliar and not what I had expected from a Vaughan Williams symphony. A few minutes later trumpeter Nick Bunker leant across holding his phone screen towards me to show me the review I had written here (in November 2008) about performing Vaughan Williams 'Symphony No 6' with Milton Keynes Sinfonia. It clearly had not made much of an impression on me! As we worked on the symphony over the past seven weeks I did begin to remember it. It is an unusual work for Vaughan Williams, sounding more like Shostakovich - angular, dispassionate, brutal and angry. Written in 1948, the symphony clearly suggests the horrific reality of war. It's a bleak outlook though the incredibly quiet final movement brings a sadly reflective peace. Our performance in Northampton last Saturday conquered most of the fiendish technical challenges of the work (with a particularly fine saxophone solo by Malcolm Green) and that last movement was really effective - you could have heard a pin drop at the end. Our concert opened with a contrasting view of war - the heroic splendour of William Walton's 'Prelude and Fugue (The Spitfire)'. We also played Bruch's 'Scottish Fantasy' with the brilliant young violinist Benjamin Roskams. Bruch uses a series of familiar Scottish folk songs to create a romantic concerto which tugs at the heart strings. Ben gave a stunning performance which I believe reduced some members of our audience to tears. Much of the piece feels like a duet between solo violin and harp, and our harpist, Alexander Thomas, was equally impressive. We ended this British themed concert with the tone poem 'Tintagel' by Arnold Bax - a sumptuous Wagnerian work which provided a wonderful finale to a really enjoyable concert. Our latest guest conductor Robert Max led us very effectively through this ambitious and challenging programme with its wide variety of styles.

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