Review: Solent Symphony Orchestra at Portsmouth Cathedral, October 2nd

Finally! Live music and the Solent Symphony Orchestra (SSO) are back!

After nearly 19 months of silence, it was marvellous to see again so many musicians in one place, at Portsmouth Cathedral plus a good size audience, despite the weather! However, alongside this joy, we were saddened by the loss of those who were missing… The concert was dedicated to the wonderful Gwen Robson, a member of the cello section of the orchestra for many years, who sadly died in August. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for the chosen repertoire? The handful of gorgeous cello themes throughout the programme seemed most appropriate.

Out of the silence and stillness in the Cathedral, the first few notes of Borodin’s Prince Igor Overture, sounded mysterious, even perhaps slightly nervous… but within few bars, as the music unfolded, the sound gained intensity and depth and we were all immersed in rather dark and slow opening of this incredible masterpiece, but most importantly – in the magic of live music!

The Overture was masterfully performed under Steve Tanner’s fantastic leadership.

Maybe some of the clarity and orchestral balance might have not been like on a CD or even as on a live streamed concert (there are sound engineers to adjust that!) but these imperfections didn’t take away from the sheer emotion even physical feel of the music surrounding us.

Magical and priceless!!

The second item in the first half of the concert was Liszt’s Piano Concerto No1, with 17 years old soloist, Finalist of BBC Young Musician of the Year 2020, Thomas Luke. Thomas, who lives on the Isle of Wight, won the SSO Concerto Award at the Portsmouth Music Festival back in 2019 and had waited a long time for his opportunity to perform…. but it was well worth the wait and we were in for a treat indeed!

Although the concerto itself perhaps is not the favourite of many musicians (including me), Thomas found a loving tenderness in the lyrical passages and at the same time was fully equipped to meet this virtuoso work’s challenges.

Perhaps a few occasions in the 1st movement when the young blood stepped in and few passages ran ahead, but Thomas’s excellent musicianship and unexpected (for 17-year-old) maturity, kicked in and in the rest of the piece Soloist and Orchestra bonded beautifully to become one – a great performance.

However, the highlight of the 1st half of the concert was actually the encore!
Thomas transported us from the virtuosity of Liszt to a much more intimate and wonderfully lyrical place – that of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in D Major, Op.23!

There were beautifully shaped and layered textures with a splendid sense of atmosphere and heart-warming lyricism. Most enjoyable!

In the second half of the concert, the Solent Symphony Orchestra and Steve Tanner delivered an inspiring realisation of Dvorak’s Symphony N8. The interpretation struck a perfect balance of darkness and sunshine, sadness and triumph where all solos in the wind sections (as well as strings, especially orchestra leader Kirstie Robertson’s violin solo in the Liszt) were splendidly executed. Pure delight!

What an evening of live music!
The future of music is looking bright…

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