Tonight's concert certainly promised to be one to remember with music from three of Russia's finest composers. In the first half, the audience was presented with the fabulous 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky (1880), and contrasted with the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 (1901). The second half picked the pace back up again, with powerful music of the Suite from the Firebird (1910; 1919 version). The programme for tonight's concert meant that it was not one to miss, and the Orchestra played to a full house with even a few standing at the back of the Great Hall.
A popular piece since it's first performance, the 1812 Overture was a grand start to this evening's concert. A delicate and sensual opening by the cellos and violas was built upon perfectly so that the solo oboe and other woodwinds in turn came across unhindered. The technically difficult sections in the strings were handled with precision and mastery as expected from the Symphony Orchestra. With each build-up towards a climax inside the piece, the music became more and more intense until the finale began. In the original score, the music has cannon-shot and church bells written in, and with a little help from DramSoc, we saw stage pyrotechniques stand in place of the cannon and tubular bells as the usual replacement for the church bells. My view here is that it would have been nice to have had the bells a little louder as the power of the orchestra drowned them slightly. Overall we heard a fantastic performance of a much loved and well known piece of music.
The second piece of music, the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 is perhaps one of the most famous pieces of music in the world; it is certainly one of the most loved as it recently topped the ClassicFM Hall of Fame chart for the third year running. The soloist for this performance was Andrew Zolinsky who has recently performed this work in the Barbican Hall with the London Concert Orchestra. From the enthusiastic outset the music continued with a sense of energy and vitality that was well maintained throughout the first movement and aside from the odd moment when I felt the orchestra and conductor were slightly out with one another they followed the very expressive playing of the soloist well. The second movement of the piece, which is perhaps one of the most beautiful slow movements every written in a concerto, was delicately opened with a good sound by the orchestra strings and beautiful solos from the woodwind. In this movement the soloist adopted a slightly more restrained mood and concentrated on expression. The final movement saw the energy from the first return to close the first half of the concert with a sparkling and dramatic climax. The rapturous applause showed that despite the odd slip it was very well received and great credit should go to the soloist on a remarkable and energetic performance.
The Suite from The Firebird performed this evening was the 1919 version; there are a few others (most known are the 1911 and 1945 versions). The full work is a ballet which lasts forty-five minutes and is based on a popular Russian fairytale. Faithful to the storyline of beginning in an enchanted garden, the carefully played opening by the low strings certainly produced the correct mood. By far the most technically demanding work performed this evening, the orchestra performed with great control over the music, and the result was a superb performance of one of my favourite pieces of orchestra music.
This evening's concert was certainly very enjoyable and one that definitely impressed the audience as judged by the amount of applause at the end. For a very demanding programme, the orchestra managed to get to grips with the music in a relatively short space of time and for that they should be commended. Also, all the soloists that performed this evening are certainly worthy of recognition as they played exceptionally well. Special mention should go to their conductor, Peter Bassano, who stood in at the last minute due to Richard Dickins (the usual conductor and musical director) being taken ill at the last minute. With this concert behind, I very much look forward to their next, which is next year after they return from tour to Italy and Paris.