Eyebrows were raised when the edict went out that all musicians in the Havant Symphony Orchestra were to wear black shirts and no ties at their most recent concert. Symphony orchestras are rather dyed-in-the-wool about their usual dress of white shirt, black bow tie and dinner suits. Never, in the last half century, has HSO departed from this. Modernists greeted this bold move with glee while old stalwarts were hot under the collar at having to buy black shirts. To comply with the all black rule a lady ‘cellist, noted for her colourful dress, had to rummage in the back of her undie drawer to find a pair of black tights. But, like it or not, all of the eighty players fell in line with the order.
Not that any of this made any difference to the fine music which delighted the people in the well-filled auditorium at Oaklands School, Waterlooville. Trainee conductor Richard Miller received rousing applause for his skilful direction of George Butterworth’s “A Shropshire Lad”. Single handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy knocked them out with his sparkling rendition of Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. To the delight of the audience, he played two wonderful encores. He recently appeared on BBC television’s The One Show. Copies of his latest album, Echoes, featuring Bach and Rachmaninov, sold like hot cakes in the foyer.
The symphony which rounded off the evening was composed by the Belgian, Cesar Franck in 1888. He only composed one symphony and, like the question of black or white shirts, it caused controversy at the time. In Paris, some thought it wasn’t French enough. Others said it sounded too German like Wagner or too Hungarian like Liszt.
In 2017, under the nimble baton of Musical Director, Jonathan Butcher, the Havant Symphony Orchestra just made it sound like fantastic Franck. Franck’s personality came out in sweet and lyrical passages, melodic lines (big tunes) and bold blazes of triumph. Music doesn’t get much better than this.
The HSO’s next concert is at Oaklands School on Saturday 17 March 2018. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no 2, Dvorak’s violin concerto, Delius’ “The Walk in the Paradise Garden” and Mussorgsky and Ravel’s mega-work “Pictures at an Exhibition”. That’s something to look forward to.