Review: “French Connection” by the Solent Symphony Orchestra – Sensational Soloist

Review of the Solent Symphony Orchestra on Saturday September 28 at Portsmouth Cathedral

The Solent Symphony Orchestra never fails to delight with its exuberance and flair and the opening bars of the Berlioz overture, “Le Corsaire”, left the audience in no doubt that this evening’s performance was going to be memorable.

The brilliance of the initial nimble-fingered string flourish set the bar high and the rapid wind syncopations drove things onward at a rate of knots. The contrasting, beautifully-controlled melodic section gave a brief but welcome respite, before the fireworks returned ably led by the energetic trombone section.

The orchestra then provided the perfect accompaniment for Valentina Seferinova’s sensational performance of Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G Major”. Her interpretation was in equal measures dramatic, energetic, serene and inspirational.

The opening iconic whip crack heralded an outstanding performance. The first movement fizzed along with stand out solos from the piccolo, trumpet, horn, harp, and a triumphant bassoon section but the breathtaking piano cadenza was the highlight. Many in the audience couldn’t help themselves in acknowledging the excitement of this movement with a spontaneous round of applause as it came to a ferocious full stop.

The sublime opening of the slow movement perfectly reflected the ethereal setting and Ms. Seferinova’s control of the tranquil and serene piano solo brought about an atmosphere of celestial beauty. The peace and calm were symbiotically supported by the sensitivity of the solo flute entry and the haunting cor anglais melody. With the exquisite final pianissimo piano trill, Valentina brought this movement to a poignant and emotionally-charged close.

The last movement once more gives the full orchestra the chance to shine and the atmospheric, jazz-like episodes, shared between piano and ensemble, promote the enjoyment for which this piece is so well known. Valentina’s perfectly presented virtuosic passages brought the first half to a vibrant and celebratory culmination.

The single work of the second half, Mussorgsky’s 10-movement “Pictures at an Exhibition” gave this fine orchestra the chance to show off the breadth and variety of its aural palette. This included impressive solos from saxophone and euphonium, the textural intensity provided by the contrabassoon and the majestic brilliance of the brass section “Promenade”.

Under Conductor Steve Tanner, each picture was brought to life by the expert musicians in this impressive ensemble, who gave an appreciative audience a very special evening’s entertainment.

Put the date of the next SSO performance in your diary now (7 March 2020, 7.30pm, St. Thomas’ Cathedral, Portsmouth). You won’t regret it!

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