Review of Charity Symphony Orchestra: “Romantic Drama”

Stuart Reed writes:

As an opening number for a concert, Richard Wagner’s Der fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) is hard to beat. At Romsey Abbey on Saturday 27 October, the Charity Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Paul Ingram, really did give this masterly work some wellie. Paul is a pianist and timpani player so he likes it loud.

The piece is a stormy tone poem. The sound and fury of the tempest evokes a mental picture of a ship battering its way through mountainous seas. It was absolutely fantastic. The brass blared, the timpani thundered and the woodwind wailed. The first violins screamed like the wind whistling through a doomed vessel’s halyards. The seconds, led by vivacious violinist Alice Plant, thrashed away frantically at millions of semiquavers giving the impression of great squalls of flying spray and stinging rain. It’s not difficult to imagine Wagner composing this overture when thankfully stepping ashore in London following an horrendous crossing from the port of Pillau on the Baltic. Once in East Prussia, Pillau is now called Baltiysk and is the base port to a Russian fleet of warships.

In marked contrast, Wagner’s Karfreitagszauber (Good Friday Magic) was beautifully serene. It’s from the opera Parsifal which is based on the myth of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Conductor Dominic Harries skilfully brought out the orchestra’s ability to play sweetly here to create the dreamlike quality of flower-filled meadows in which the knight Parsifal finds himself. Here was a second tone poem to delight the senses.

The main event was a real blockbuster: Bruckner’s Symphony Number 8. Bruckner began this magnum opus in 1884. It took him five or six years to write and rewrite it, years to get it published and even longer before it was finally performed in 1909.

It’s hard graft physically for the classical musicians to play for around seventy-five minutes without stopping. It demands serious concentration and dexterity to handle the unusual keys with double sharps and flats peppering the pages of the music. But all went well. From the rostrum, Craig Lawton, the Director of the Charity Symphony Orchestra, showed his stamina and conducting prowess by bringing out the Wagnerian quality of Bruckner’s great work. It’s fair to say that the CSO musicians, led by violinist Robert-Jan Koopsman, excelled themselves.

Many a player was seen easing his or her tired shoulders after the performance. One exception was Pearl Mace MBE, the ninety-year-old among the first violins, who took it all in her stride without even batting an eyelid.

The Abbey was well filled despite the chilly evening and that worthy charity Leukaemia Busters can now safely look forward to a very much needed donation.

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