Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra

Shrewsbury Orchestral Society

Review - Wed 2 Dec 2015

Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra with conductor John Moore began their new season at the Alington Hall of Shrewsbury School with an engaging  programme of two Scandinavian works surrounding Schumann’s  piano concerto. The evening opened with a short piece by the Danish composer Karl Neilsen  -  his  Maskarade Overture. It was useful as a warm-up for the orchestra but had little other merit apart from its brevity.


Viv McLean was the soloist in the Schumann concerto, giving a workmanlike performance which never quite hit the heights. The opening cascade of descending chords seemed rather muted and lacked real bite. However, the following dialogue between soloist and orchestra was more convincing despite a few problems of ensemble in the woodwind The second movement was charmingly delivered and achieved the lyricism found in many of Schumann’s miniature piano pieces. The last movement, with its contrasting syncopated middle section, had some pleasing moments, but neither the orchestra nor the pianist seemed totally comfortable with the pace that was set.


The fifth Symphony by Sibelius completed the programme. Here the orchestra conveyed the stark Scandinavian landscape well – from the opening horn call, through the great waves of string arpeggios, to the serenity of the ‘Andante’ section and  the majestic brass writing in the final movement the orchestra navigated skilfully between the tenderness and ferocity so compelling in this work.


This was a most enjoyable concert;  it is to their great credit that the orchestra can be slightly ring-rusty yet still be musically convincing.


© Bob Wysome (reproduced by kind permission)

Review - Sat 20 June 2015

Shrewsbury  Symphony Orchestra  presented  its final concert of the current season at Shrewsbury Abbey  and  enhanced its growing reputation with a  bold  performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, surely one of the most difficult works in the orchestral repertoire. A conductor of this piece  has the onerous task not only of controlling a large body of players, but also a large chorus and four solo singers in the final movement. From the start ,the orchestra played with great assurance , biting into the dramatic dotted rhythms with real purpose   -   all sections made telling contributions but special praise must be given to the woodwind ( whose articulation and ensemble were good  throughout ) and the timpanist , whose control of the work’s  rhythmic diversity  was most impressive. The second movement was taken at breakneck speed , just avoiding disaster on several occasions but played with admirable spirit, with any  slips covered  by  the generous Abbey acoustic. The slow movement was  played beautifully  and with great sensitivity to Beethoven’s dynamics  instructions .  


……. and then the final movement, the popular ‘Ode to Joy’ . Baritone soloist Jonathan May provided a splendid opening outburst , to be well supported by soprano Naomi Harvey, contralto Laura Innes  and tenor Jamie Macdougall.  The members  of Shrewsbury  School Community Choir played their part in bringing the symphony to its remarkable climax;  no doubt some of the sopranos will be nursing sore throats  after singing so many sustained  top ‘A’s.


The evening had begun with a confident performance of the Tragic Overture by Brahms, which was played with commendable accuracy and energy by this hard-working orchestra.  As the season closes, special praise must be given to leader Paul Bramwell,  whose calm authority is always evident, and to conductor John Moore for his skilful direction  and the self-belief he instils  into his players to produce concerts such as this.  


© Bob Wysome (reproduced by kind permission)

Review - Wed 19 Mar 2015

Shrewsbury Abbey was the attractive  venue for the latest concert by the Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra. This orchestra has developed immensely in recent years  and this concert displayed once again what an excellent ensemble it has become. The evening began with Rossini’s overture ‘The Thieving Magpie’. After two opening drum rolls the full orchestra announced the march theme with great conviction and crisp articulation. There were some delightful woodwind solos before the typical Rossini ‘crescendo’ arrived, which was cleverly controlled by conductor John Moore.


Next came the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss with soprano soloist Naomi Harvey. This was a captivating performance  and displayed  secure rhythmic control and attractive tone quality across all the vocal registers ; in addition, her breath control in some of Strauss’s very long phrases was remarkable, as was her attention to word-painting. The orchestral accompaniment to the songs was also impressive with a ravishing string sound and a unity of articulation throughout.


After the interval we were treated to a performance of Dvorak’s Symphony No.6. Not as well-known as his ‘New World’ Symphony, nevertheless it has many qualities of its own, which were highlighted in this performance; the first movement combined traditional classical structure with aspects of Czech folk music. The slow movement was notable for the impassioned melody played on the violins, while the third movement released a lively scherzo based on the Czech ‘furiant’ dance, powerfully delivered by this fine orchestra. The last movement was notable for the scurrying string playing, a bouncing dance-like tune played well by clarinet and violas and which is used as a subject for imitation. The final moments of this work were most exciting, with the rushing strings, a version of the main theme and some hymn-like brass chords all combining in a powerful conclusion.


Another wonderful evening - congratulations to all involved with SSO.


© Bob Wysome (reproduced by kind permission)

Review - Wed 03 Dec 2014

The recent concert by  Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra at the  Alington  Hall once again exemplified  the bold programming  and technical capabilities of this fine orchestra. After  a spirited performance of  the ‘Prometheus’  overture by Beethoven, notable for some crisp woodwind playing and a rich string tone,  we were treated to his Violin Concerto, with capable soloist  Michael Bochmann . The  first movement began with an orchestral  exposition of the main theme, based on a five note timpani figure, before the soloist  joined in. At this point there was a slight intonation ‘conflict’ between soloist and orchestra which was soon corrected  to reveal some neat  solo passage-work against a sensitive orchestral backdrop. If the first movement felt a little soul-less, the slow movement was riveting,  with  conductor John Moore achieving a real orchestral ‘pianissimo’ against  which   the solo violin provided simple decoration. The last movement was suitably perky with dance-like rhythms  dominating  and the soloist leaping far above the stave with sparkling runs, trills and arpeggios.


But the evening’s highlight was yet to come - Stravinsky’s  ‘Firebird’ suite , rarely tackled by amateur orchestras. After restraining  themselves to accompany the concerto, they dived headlong into this suite with great vigour and obvious relish. From the Introduction, with its shimmering strings and splashes  of high brilliance in the woodwind, to the syncopated  rhythms and clashing harmonies of the Infernal Dance and the mighty procession of brass chords in the Finale, the orchestra  played out of its skin with some  excellent solos  on woodwind and horn. This most challenging of works ended in a burst of fantastic brilliance which, quite rightly, drew rapturous applause from an impressed audience.


One can only admire the ambition of this orchestra, the skills of leader Paul Bramwell and the musicianship of conductor John Moore.


© Bob Wysome (reproduced by kind permission)

Review - Wed 18 Jun 2014

Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra presented its  summer concert at the Abbey , with a programme  of music drawn mostly from the classical age. Mozart’s overture to ‘ The Marriage of  Figaro’ began the concert with scampering strings providing the launching pad for a convincing entry by the full orchestral forces. Sam Pearce was the soloist in Mozart’s  4th horn concerto and his flawless technique was impressive. There could possibly have been greater dynamic contrast in the first two movements, but the piece really came to life in the well-known final movement , made even more famous by  the Flanders and Swann vocal version. The first half ended with Prokofiev’s’ tongue in cheek’ Classical symphony, a work which combines classical structure with more modern techniques. Despite a few indecisive moments the performance had some sparkle as conductor John Moore kept the music flowing at some pace.

Beethoven’s 7th symphony was played in the second half - a splendid work which has many challenges for all sections of the orchestra, but it was successfully delivered with a particularly well crafted slow movement and a pacy scherzo movement which stretched the techniques of the wind players  who also had to endure a rather warm evening, making  crisp, consistent  articulation difficult. But the greatest challenge was yet to come - conductor John Moore took the last movement at breakneck speed which kept the orchestra on their toes ( and some of the string players almost on their knees).  There were moments of great anxiety but the orchestra responded to the conductor’s demands and finished the work with a flourish. It has been an exciting season for this orchestra with many highlights - congratulations to all concerned.


© Bob Wysome (reproduced by kind permission)