Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra

Shrewsbury Orchestral Society

Review - Wednesday 2nd April 2014 in Shrewsbury Abbey

‘From Russia with Love’

For their Spring concert at Shrewsbury Abbey, the Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra presented a programme of 19th century Russian music. It is no hardship these days to attend this orchestra’s concerts since it has acquired a confidence and self-belief under the guidance of  conductor John Moore which allows an audience to appreciate the music for its own sake and forget that it is a totally amateur organisation. The concert began with Borodin’s overture ‘Prince Igor’ which straight away revealed a well-balanced ensemble and a crispness of attack which set the standard for the whole evening. Then came ‘In the Steppes of Central Asia’, again by Borodin, a work which celebrates the expansion of the Russian empire during the reign of Alexander II. The haunting themes were lovingly presented  throughout  the orchestra, but special mention must be made of the contributions of the Principal French Horn and Clarinet players, both of whom were on top form the whole concert. Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on a Bare Mountain’ concluded the first half, which allowed the orchestra to fill the Abbey with strident fanfare-like figures and incisive rhythms.

The main work was Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony of 1888. This showed the orchestra at its best, from the opening theme of the first movement, played threateningly by the clarinets, to the mighty statement  of the same theme at the end of the last movement in a triumphant major key. One of the real highlights was the playing of the slow 2nd movement, with its stream of   soaring melodies. The wonderful horn theme which opens the movement was exquisitely played by principal horn player Andrienna Straw, setting the mood for the strings to caress the main tune with great sensitivity. After the delicate waltz  of the third movement, came the imposing finale  - surely one of Tchaikovsky’s most joyous and energetic movements. The orchestra played this movement with great relish, capturing the flavour and dance rhythms of Russian folk-music perfectly.

Orchestra and conductor are to be congratulated on another most successful concert.  

 

© Bob Wysome (reproduced by kind permission)

Review - Wednesday 20th November 2013 in The Abbey, Shrewsbury

 

For the final concert of its 125th Anniversary year, Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra invited the wonderfully talented violinist Tasmin Little to be the soloist in the concerto by Brahms.  It was an inspired choice  -   she gave a simply stunning performance with playing of the highest quality, capturing every nuance in the music  without losing touch with the overall structure of the work. The cadenza in the 1st movement was breathtaking with  focused intonation, admirable technical  control and beauty of tone. The slow movement was suitably meditative with the woodwind section underpinning a creamy, carefully wrought oboe solo which the solo violin was later to elaborate on with great lyricism. The Finale has the character of a Hungarian Dance and this performance was suitably fiery with a  convincing dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra, who by now had risen to the occasion realising that they were part of something special. This movement is often taken at breakneck speed but here a well-paced start allowed the music to reserve some energy for a thrilling conclusion.

Tasmin Little is remarkable  -  the Brahms violin concerto may not be the showiest of pieces, but it is among the most difficult, and the rapid, flighty passages , double and triple stops and other technical challenges were all dispensed with clarity and control and with a total lack of ostentation.

The orchestra had fulfilled an admirable role in the concerto, so it was not surprising  that the  opening bars of  the Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz which followed sounded a little weary .  Shaky opening aside, the orchestra grew in confidence  through the five movements  to depict  the varied  moods of a score which ranges from the ‘darkly brooding’ to the ‘wildly grotesque’. Soloists  from within the orchestra produced some exquisite moments, notably in the woodwind , while the percussion section’s depiction of an approaching storm was delivered with great relish.

The concert, which had  begun with a neatly played Academic Festival Overture by Brahms, was ably  conducted by John Moore who can again be proud of his orchestra’s  achievements.

 

© Bob Wysome (reproduced by kind permission)

Review - Wednesday 19th June 2013 in The Abbey, Shrewsbury

 

Shrewsbury Abbey Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra presented its summer concert at Shrewsbury Abbey, attracting a large audience who enjoyed a varied selection of music. We were first transported to the shores of the Hebrides with Mendelssohn’s popular Fingal’s Cave overture. The wisps of melody that begin the piece were tantalisingly passed around the orchestra before cellos and bassoons gracefully delivered the work’s principal tune. The dramatic orchestral outbursts which follow led to an appropriately subdued conclusion.

 

Violinist David Joyce was the soloist in ‘The Lark Ascending’ by Vaughan Williams. This was a totally captivating performance, with the string section’s magical opening chords providing a haunting platform for the violin’s entry with its short, trilling birdsong phrases leading to a most eloquently played solo passage and folk-like melody. David Joyce is to be congratulated on his lovely interpretation - sensitive, with well-focussed intonation and phrasing, superb control of dynamics, and most judicious use of vibrato. The performance did justice to the composer’s description of this piece as ‘an English landscape translated into musical terms’.

 

In great contrast, the orchestra dived headlong into Chabrier’s rhapsody ‘Espana’, played with relish by the whole orchestra who obviously enjoyed entering into the world of Spanish melody and rhythm.

 

The second half of the concert was a performance of Elgar’s 1st Symphony. This was as good a performance as I have witnessed from this fine orchestra in recent years. From the opening drum rolls and noble slow march of the first movement, through the scurrying semiquavers of the Scherzo, the exquisite beauty of the slow movement and the bringing together of earlier musical ideas in the Finale, the orchestra played above themselves, displaying style, sensitivity and musicianship which conductor John Moore coaxed from this ambitious orchestra.

 

© Bob Wysome (reproduced by kind permission)

Review - Wednesday 20th March 2013 in The Abbey, Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury Abbey was the perfect setting for a concert performance of Verdi’s opera ‘Aida’, presented by Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra and Community Choir and five soloists , and conducted by the inspirational John Moore. This epic work explores the devastating consequences of a classic love triangle involving Aida, an Ethiopian slave-girl, Amneris, the King of Egypt’s daughter and Radames, the Captain of the Guard.

‘Aida’ was composed in 1871 when the mature Verdi combined the heroic quality of grand opera with vivid character depiction and a wealth of melodic, harmonic and orchestral colour. All the solo singers provided some thrilling moments but special mention must be made of tenor Shaun Dixon (Radames), whose rich- toned voice and impressive vocal range were quite memorable. Naomi Harvey (Aida) and Kathryn Turpin (Amneris) were both convincing as the competing lovers while the roles of the opposing Ethiopian and Egyptian kings were sung by baritone Simon Thorpe and bass Jonathan May with power and conviction.

The Community Choir fulfilled its role with enthusiasm but the distance between them and the orchestra meant that they had to work hard to be heard. Accompanying an opera provides a stern test for any orchestra and great credit goes to the Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra (leader - Paul Bramwell) for its remarkable concentration and stamina. It supported the singers well and the famous ‘Grand March’ was played with appropriate vigour and crisp rhythms. There were a few moments of insecurity ; the string sound needed greater projection and some indifferent tuning meant that intonation took a little time to settle, ; but the slightly out-of-tune trumpet fanfares somehow seemed right, giving the feel of an outdoor performance in somewhere like Verona - all we were missing was an image of a Sphynx and a herd of elephants barging in through the west door of the Abbey to complete an authentic picture.

The ambition of the Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra is to be applauded - programming is adventurous and the end-product remarkable for an amateur group. Long may this continue; What a good aida!!

© Bob Wysome (reproduced by kind permission)

Review - Wednesday 21st November 2012 in the Alington Hall, Shrewsbury School

It is always a pleasure to attend concerts by Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra these days, with their ambitious programming and compelling enthusiasm in performance. Their autumn concert at the Alington Hall of Shrewsbury School did not disappoint and there was much to admire in works by Beethoven, Grieg and Shostakovich. The Egmont overture of Beethoven began the evening, a little tentative at first but gaining in confidence as the heavily accented chords led into the more lyrical phrases . where the strings of the orchestra displayed a carefully balanced ensemble.

Viv McLean was the soloist in Grieg’s popular piano concerto. This was an eloquent and thoughtful account, maybe a little over cautious in tempo but displaying a secure technique with some truly magical moments. A strong rapport with the orchestra was always apparent and there was some fine orchestral support , notably from the principal French horn , whose contributions throughout the concert were outstanding. The slow movement , with its ravishing opening on muted strings, produced some exquisitely delicate solo passages , contrasting well with the Norwegian folk-dance rhythms of the finale. This last movement built up to a suitably majestic ending without lapsing into the pomposity of some interpretations.

The powerful 5th symphony of Shostakovich, written to appease the Russian authorities after being accused of promoting an anti-communist spirit in earlier works, presented a real challenge to the orchestra. The mood of gloom and unease was captured in the opening bars, though here, as in other parts of the work, one wished for a few more desks of string players to add weight and richness to the sound. The second movement was suitably sardonic while the long, unbroken melody of the third movement reached a climax of unbearable sadness. The mood was shattered in the final movement by the fierce march-tune and the dramatic intensity of its various transformations.

Congratulations all round, and especially to conductor, John Moore, whose persuasive and encouraging direction brings out the best from this talented orchestra.

© Bob Wysome (reproduced by kind permission)