Concert on Sunday 11th May 2003
St Philip’s Church
Conductor Barrie McKinnon
Leader Jon Henderson
Soloist Maurizio Stefania
Albinoni Adagio for Organ and Strings
Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition
Saint-Saens Organ Symphony
Well, what can I say? As an orchestra we seemed to have taken brinkmanship to the limits with the last concert. I remember the open discussion about the problems of getting the Mussorgsky in time – then getting it with only a month to go, of which 2 weeks were holidays! The result of this was a performance of immense concentration and some superb individual and ensemble performances. Sure, there were some bits of this that weren’t 100% together and there was an odd wrong(ish) note – but overall I am absolutely “over the moon” with what we produced.
I can’t single out every outstanding moment but I must mention some superb trumpet work by Chris – technically very difficult passages were executed with what seemed to be calm and ease – brilliant! In general the brass playing was of the highest order through this – including horns. I’ve come to expect good wind ensemble playing and wasn’t let down at all, despite the removals before finally getting seated at ground level. Woodwind played superbly from piccolo to contra with some excellent clarinet and sax work. All sections were presented with technical difficulties with this work and, by and large, all were dealt with extremely well – particularly by those rehearsing the work for the first time – percussion especially.
The Adagio was, in realistic terms, sight read at the rehearsal. Yes, I know that it isn’t particularly demanding in terms of lots of notes in weird keys, but needed tone and balance to work. John’s solo work was absolutely superb and he was well supported throughout by all. I know I say this quite often, and make no apologies for it, but the quality of our string playing is developing really well and speaks volumes for principals in all sections who are leading by example. The tone of the St Philips organ was ideally suited to this work and was very well played by Maurizio.
The symphony was expected to be our most secure work – in terms of rehearsal, and this is how it turned out. The general level of musicianship displayed was excellent and the audience (and I) enjoyed a dramatic and imposing performance. The first movement has its own set of difficulties – not least a long codetta with exposed string parts punctuated by the organ. This was coped with really well and demonstrates a growing confidence in intonation and tone. Other parts of this movement displayed the rhythmic quality that the orchestra has. The second movement was really well played and the orchestra (particularly woodwind) dealt with the subtle tempo changes quite well. The brass playing in this movement was absolutely rock solid and dramatic (which I expect was the composer’s intention). If I have any regrets about this concert it would be the physical inability of the organ to balance with the orchestra in the symphony. This of course is no one’s fault – pure physics and the ensemble feel was excellent all the way through. It just didn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand up – which, again, is probably what the composer wanted.
If we leave that point aside, we had an excellent concert, and the people in the audience who spoke to me as they left were congratulating the orchestra in a way I’ve not heard for a long time. These were well-deserved congratulations! I can’t finish without congratulating everyone – especially woodwind – for they way they maintained tuning and intonation when working with the organ. Extremely well done to those who were at the end (and in some cases past it) of their instrument’s ability to get to an A at 460 cycles per second!
Many thanks - Barrie