Review : Solent Symphony Orchestra at Portsmouth Cathedral ‘Spring Classics’ concert

9 March 2024

Previous winners of the Solent Symphony Orchestra concerto award, offered annually by the Portsmouth Music Festival, have set the bar incredibly high, with outstanding performances recently from pianist Thomas Luke, and violinist Alexandra Peel.

This year’s winner, 16 year old flautist Emme Hensel (pictured), from the New Forest, did not disappoint. From the assured opening statement of the Reinecke Flute Concerto in D Major, the audience knew they were in for a treat. Emme’s beautiful tone filled the cathedral and with an emotional intensity, giving full justice to the romantic ebb and flow of the first movement.

Backed by a large orchestra it is sometimes difficult to balance the sound, and there may have been moments when the orchestra overpowered the soloist, but these were few and far between as this flautist could more than hold her own. The second movement was a highlight for me. Emme’s expressive, lyrical phrasing created an intense, emotional performance displaying a real understanding of the composers intentions, not to mention extraordinary breath control.

The dazzling finale allowed the soloist to showcase her virtuosity with a fantastic display of technical skills to bring the concerto to a thrilling conclusion. This was a remarkable concerto debut from a 16 year old, performed from memory, with confidence, poise and a sense of real joy. Emme Hensel is a name to watch out for in the future.

The SSO was also on fine form, opening the concert with Holst’s  A Somerset Rhapsody. The transitions between the English folksongs were admirably handled with notable solos from the cor anglais in setting the opening mood, and the clarinet bringing the piece to a subtle close as the music faded into the distance.

However, the orchestra really came to life in the second half with Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony. Conductor Steve Tanner kept a tight grip on the tempos with some thrilling crescendos contrasting with the intense, pianissimo moments. There were many lovely solos, notably from the  cor anglais, horn, viola, violin and harp. The lower brass in particular, added real tension and excitement and the percussion section did extremely well to control the volume in the lively acoustics of the cathedral, yet keeping everything tight and crisp.

 This was impressive playing from all. A fellow audience member summed it up: “an epic performance….. epic soundscapes, an emotional rollercoaster, with every section of the orchestra at its best.” I would not disagree; this was a fine performance from the SSO.

Deborah Gatie

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