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Review: Charity Symphony Orchestra’s May Concert

20/05/2019

The floor of the Turner Sims concert hall in the University of Southampton was packed with players on Saturday 18 May. There were eight double basses and fulsome upper and lower string sections matching scores of brass and woodwind. The percussionists seemed to have everything but the kitchen sink.

There were a few empty places in the tiered seating. But there was still a fair-sized audience, despite the dubious allure of the Eurovision Song Contest being on telly.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Charity Symphony Orchestra’s Director, Craig Lawton, the solo violinist Shoshanah Sievers and all the musicians really excelled themselves.

The programme was upbeat and high-key throughout. A couple of founder members of the Meon Valley Orchestra, who were in the audience, simply could not believe that the CSO began sight reading the music for the first time at ten o’clock that very morning, rehearsed all day and played with such gusto during the evening performance.

Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien was an inspired choice for an opening number. It starts with a reveille bugle call. Tchaikovsky’s hotel room in Rome was next to an army barracks and this woke him from his slumbers every day.

The CSO captured the piece’s colourful mood of spirited dances, including a tarantella and lively folk tunes, precisely.

As predicted in an earlier post, seventeen-year-old Shoshanah Sievers was on sparkling form as she played Henryk Wiewniawski’s Concerto for Violin number 2. The celebrated Polish violinist and composer would have been proud of this up-and-coming teenage violinist.

In rehearsal, Shoshanah played the whole concerto from memory while many an older orchestral fiddler looked on with a mixture of admiration and envy. In the evening, she simply delighted the audience. Her mastery of the speed-of-light cadenzas flying up and down the fingerboard was spot on. Her sweet, heart-aching tone during the slow passages was exquisite. Sensibly, Conductor Craig Lawton gave close attention to her lead and ensured that the balance between orchestra and soloist was just right.

George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture came after the intermission. The CSO conveyed bucket loads of Hispanic, hot-blooded excitement while playing this lively work by George Gershwin. Its original title was Rumba and it evokes memories of jumbo daiquiris and sunny carnivals in the days of Ernest Hemmingway’s roistering in the bars of Havana. Gershwin spent two hysterical weeks almost without sleep while holidaying on the island. At the Turner Sims there was no danger of any audience members dozing off while the percussion section hammered out those crazy Cuban rhythms. Christine Kennedy’s contribution on claves was outstanding.

Even though he discarded his dinner jacket for the main event Conductor Craig still worked himself into a lather for Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. As well he might, for the symphonic dances and the spikey rumble all demand immense energy and concentration from conductor and players alike. The beautiful courtship “Somewhere” duet between John Hinchcliffe on viola and lead violinist Colomba Dromgoole-Cavazzi was nothing short of divine. Colomba is a final year student at Southampton Uni. Stephen Shepherd, an Army saxophonist, played an absolute blinder throughout.

The percussion crew, organised by Paul Ingram were marvellous too. They jumped about, swopping instruments like demons. Christine Kennedy was on bongos, whistle, cow bell, tambourine and timpani. Vicki Garson was on conga, triangle, finger cymbals and timpani. Will Gubbins played the drum kit, woodblock and timpani. Paul Ingram managed the xylophone, vibraphone, glockenspiel, cymbals and cowbell. Together they sounded like they were having the time of their lives.
Although several members of the orchestra privately admitted that they’d not played jazzy music like this before, the result was first class.

Harriet Carey, the CSO’s Orchestra Manager richly deserved the round of applause she got at the end of the concert for assembling such a great team. In due course the CSO is to make a donation to the Kids charity which leads to way in providing a wide range of support services to disabled children, young people and their families.

The CSO’s next concert will be on Saturday 27 July at St Mary’s Church, Putney. Those musicians wishing to play and raise money for a Zimbabwean orphanage should contact Harriet on harriet.carey@hotmail.co.uk.

Author: Stuart Reed
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