Imperial College Symphony Orchestra's end of term concert, on 8th March, was performed to a rather disappointing audience in the Great Hall. Despite the hall being barely half full the orchestra played a programme of challenging repertoire spectacularly, which the audience received with great enthusiasm.
The concert opened with a reduced orchestra playing Mozart's "Overture to The Magic Flute". The piece did not immediately grab the audience's attention, which was a shame for those people trying to listen intently, but as the orchestra settled and the main theme developed there were some remarkable moments. The strings made a wonderful sound, particularly the lower strings, which were rich and passionate in tone. The players were rhythmically very accurate and the dynamic contrast was excellent towards the end.
Respighi's "Pines of Rome", literally took your breath away! The composer really explores the different sounds of the instruments with great imagination and originality to great effect. The use of the full orchestra made up for what the first piece lacked in confidence and the string players and soloists were really on top form.
The first movement was discordant but awe inspiring, a wonderful mixture of sounds from all the instruments, especially the percussion. The string section's bowing whilst generally excellent did however show some confusion in this movement.
The second movement was gorgeous, very quiet and very controlled. There was a repeating tune which descended through the strings, over which the woodwind and brass played simple melodies which was particularly effective and gave each section a chance to be heard. The use of the harp, strings and rising scales in the woodwind was haunting. This was spoilt only by a noisy page turn in the viola section.
In the third movement, the clarinet solo, by Andrew Bond, was beautifully played and accompanied by a really sensuous string sound. Andrew should be congratulated to play such a nerve wracking solo accompanied by bird song, especially with the particularly awkward jumps between octaves.
The last movement, well known from Disney's Fantasia, started with a persistent marching tune in the double bass, which echoes the "ceaseless rhythm of unending footsteps". The entrance of the bass clarinet made the hair stand up on the back of your neck in this eerily, scary movement. It must be noted that the woodwind solos of clarinet, bassoon, oboe and bass clarinet are very exposed here but were performed with great accuracy and clarity. The audience were then shocked to hear the distant sound of brass - from behind! This made a fabulous stereo affect and a rousing finale to a first half worthy of ICSO's reputation.
After a short interval, the second half started as the first had ended. In Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" the brass had the chance to do what they do best: be loud! And the strings similarly did what they do best and played with a sound of fantastic quality which I can only describe as shimmering. The "Montagues and Capulets" was enjoyed by both the audience and the orchestra, however the double bass section was a little overpowering at times often drowning out the tune. "Romeo and Juliet's Parting" was a refreshing tune in which you had the rare opportunity to hear the harp which, in this reporter's opinion, should perhaps have been microphoned. The tenor saxophone solo, by Peter Hopcroft, was unusual to hear and a little loud in comparison to the other instruments. The "Death of Tybalt" saw some enthusiastic 'col legno' playing in the strings which the cellist's particularly enjoyed. The silences in this movement were just as effective as the music and the fast sections in the strings, including some painfully high notes, were very well placed.
In all, the concert was a powerful and emotional performance with a great sustained sound. This is something ICSO should be very proud of and this reporter is sure the stunned silence of the audience at the end speaks for itself! Thank you for another great evening's entertainment.