Review: Havant Symphony Orchestra Summer Concert: “a scorcher”

There was no shortage of distractions to curb attendance figures for the Havant Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Saturday 7 July.

Despite temperatures hovering around 30 degrees centigrade, England playing Sweden in the World Cup, Wimbledon tennis on the telly and the allure of the barbecue or a visit to the coast, nearly 200 loyal classical music aficionados turned up to Oaklands School, Waterlooville. The inside of the auditorium was like a sauna. Sweltering fans vainly tried to fan themselves with their programmes. The 71 performers on stage stoically toiled away in a climate more likely to be found in Kuala Lumpur than in rural Hampshire.

Thankfully, none of these things detracted from the ensemble’s top-notch performance.

Like a ship’s pilot, young Richard Miller waved his baton and sensitively steered the orchestra through the deeps and shallows of the opening number – the Overture from Prince Igor by Borodin. From the melancholic opening andante, through the catchy melodies and on to the full-on conclusion, it was a delight to the ear.

The evening’s main event was Raphael Wallfisch’s masterly performance of Gerald Finzi’s ‘Cello Concerto. As mentioned earlier in the preview to this performance, the supreme virtuosity of the soloist must be supported confidently by the accompanying orchestra. This is no easy task. Changing time signatures, altering key signatures and varying dynamics lie like mantraps in the path of the players. The work is full of changes in mood too. There are discordant sounding passages and odd Scottish rhythms as well as tranquil, soothing melodies.

However, the experienced conducting of Jonathan Butcher was as successful as ever. His rapport with Raphael Wallfisch and close attention to the needs of this excellent soloist carried the whole thing off superbly.

Audience and orchestra both came up for air during the interval. Everyone piled outside to enjoy the cooling evening breeze. The hot drinks table run by orchestral supporter Mrs Sandy Daniel had virtually no customers.

The concert resumed with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Number 4 in F Minor. It was written in 1877, the worst year in the composer’s troubled life. He was on the run from his fractured marriage. He’d narrowly missed killing himself. Things couldn’t have been blacker for him. His mind was in turmoil. In the symphony he pointed out the disturbing idea that no one knows what cruel Fate has in store for them. Glimpses of happiness in the mind are overshadowed by grim reality. Only in the finale does Tchaikovsky take comfort in the joy of others. It’s the work of a tortured intellectual; a deep thinker.

Despite all this, the HSO musicians seemed to really enjoy playing the work. The sweet folk songs came over beautifully. In the pizzicato movement the many players sounded just like one. The supercharged energy of the finale rounded off this expertly performed work.

The Havant Symphony Orchestra rarely plays encores but that night there was an exception. The Sleeping Beauty Waltz was a lovely lollipop to send musicians and audience alike happily on their way home.

A description of the evening would not be complete without a mention of the various modes of dress of the concert. In heat of the afternoon rehearsal, oboist Mike Wilson unbuttoned his shirt to the waist semi-Poldark style. In the evening, like an upper-class cruise liner entertainer, Raphael Wallfisch was crisply attired in white tuxedo and black tie. Conductor Jonathan Butcher was clad in a heliotrope waistcoat that would have made Gareth Southgate blanch.

Shock horror. That night, one musician, who must remain anonymous, turned up in the wrong outfit. Instead of the funereal black shirt and trousers which is now de rigueur for the HSO, he turned up in white shirt and black bow tie. He tried unsuccessfully to minimise the blunder by wearing his dinner jacket. Needless to say he still stood out like a …well, like a viola player.

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