ON a cold winter’s night, Newbury Symphony Orchestra warmed our hearts and delighted our minds with a splendid Russian programme, full of great melodies. They opened with Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain, evocative of a bleak landscape peopled by demons. The strings handled the whirling motifs well, arrested in their fury by the sound of the church bell. Calm was restored by the clear, peaceful clarinet sound, heralding the dawn.
Sandwiched between this and Tchaikovsky’s popular Fantasy Overture, Romeo and Juliet, the orchestra’s already competent
playing went up several notches with a brilliant accompaniment to the lesser-known Trumpet Concerto by the Armenian composer Alexander Arutiunian. The soloist David Shead inspired us with his virtuosity – light, lyrical and spell-binding. From the first exciting bars on the trumpet, we knew we were in for a treat. His muted section was gorgeous and his conversations with the solo clarinet beautiful.
The concerto was a hard act to follow and the choice of Romeo and Juliet somewhat sombre. The string pizzicato passages were well controlled. Guest conductor Gwyn Parry-Jones was clear throughout and kept a tight rein on the pace. There were fine woodwind solos, a super harp sound and a professional-sounding brass section. The powerful timpani gave us the heartbeat of the star-crossed lovers and a moving passage by the horns and strings led to a tragic finale.
The final work was Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony, Little Russian, inspired by Ukrainian folk songs. It opened with an impressive horn solo and once again in the first movement the orchestra was on top form. The grand march of the second gave the strings another chance to shine, along with first rate woodwind playing. The grandiose finale recalled Tchaikovsky’s ballet music at its best.
After so much hard work, the orchestra are to be congratulated on a thoroughly enjoyable concert. Their next will be La France Fantastique on March 10.
Orchestra: Russian Nights,
at St Nicolas’ Church, on
Saturday, November 25