JOE CONWAY’s latest column including interviews, what’s on next week and write ups of the week just gone.
MOOD SWINGS AT WEST ROAD
The Sampson Orchestra of Cambridge, 8th October 7.30pm, West Road Concert Hall, £14/£12/£5
It’s hard to assess a concert where the quality of the music-making swings as wildly as a pendulum or the FTSE 100 share index. This inaugural concert by the Sampson Orchestra alternated between moments of transcending beauty and others that were distinctly rough – spelt with two fs!
And as if the variation in quality wasn’t enough the occasion was shot through with another issue. How much talk, explanation and information can a concert take before it becomes a presentation? Not everyone will agree, but I confess my heart sank when I heard the lady from a worthwhile local charity start the second half by uttering the famous last words, ‘Let me tell you a little about our work . . .’
But back to the music, and let’s start with the sublime moments. Andrew Haveron is not only leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra but a first-rate soloist too. The concerto was the Sibelius, so demanding that for many years it was thought unplayable. Yet Andrew’s performance was the last word in technical mastery and fastidious execution. Not to mention oodles of anguish and passion.
But it wasn’t just the soloist that made this performance so satisfying and memorable. The Sampson Orchestra delivered sensitive accompaniments and full-blooded orchestral tuttis. Working hand-in-glove with Andrew Haveron, the orchestra’s conductor Darrell Davison bravely allowed the music to unfold at a leisurely pace revealing the granite-like qualities of Sibelius’s score.
Moments to relish included the run-ins to the recaps in the first and last movements. One a mellifluous bassoon solo, the other a pulsating orchestral climax. But perhaps the most stunning moments were the very first. Andrew’s opening solo wasn’t big-toned or OTT but was riveting in its purity and refinement. The first theme was sheer perfection and the subsequent octave skips were to die for.
So where did it all start to go wrong? And where did Darrell Davison’s Dr Jekyll persona veer ever-so-slightly in the direction of Mr Hyde? Certainly not in Barber’s Adagio which preceded the Sibelius. This was given a sensitive and sensible performance with speeds that allowed the Sampson strings time to luxuriate in this perennially beautiful score.
However an hour or so later the same string band was struggling with the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s 4th. The gorgeous plucked arpeggios that cascade between fiddles, violas and cellos were nowhere near in tune, and the woodwind and brass themes were ludicrously fast.
Earlier the beautiful oboe solo that kicks off the second movement sounded metronomic, even though the romantic style of
the music invites a flexible approach. But the first casualty of Darrell’s relentless speeds came in the very first bar of the symphony when the horns simply didn’t have time to articulate their first fateful triplet. Still worse was the second theme – one of Tchaikovsky’s loveliest – where the clarinet and bassoon melody was horribly rushed.
At the end of the third movement all seemed set for a disastrous finale and sure enough Darrell Davison’s speeds tended towards the manic. But it’s good to report that ultimately a potential catastrophe turned into something approaching a triumph. Darrell drove his band mercilessly but he is clearly a musician to his finger-tips and knew just how far he could push.
Er just as well.
Recently I chatted to Andrew Browning who was president of CUCO – the Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra – till June. I asked Andrew who’s a third year student at John’s about the most memorable happenings of last season. He singled out Bethan White’s oboe playing in a Ravel suite, a scintillating performance of Beethoven 2, and accompanying Ann Murray at the John’s May Ball. ‘Offstage my favourite memories are of the first CUCO social at Cindies and the many merry after-parties.’ Mmmm, no surprise there!
I wondered why CUCO had decided to join forces with CUMS – the Cambridge University Music Society – during Andrew’s term of office. He told me ‘we turned to CUMS to see whether by merging we could make both organisations more efficient and raise the profile of Cambridge instrumental music.’
One of the first fruits of the merger is the Cambridge University Lunchtime Concerts series which begins on Tuesday at West Road. Andrew Browning believes ‘the concerts will be a showcase of the finest musicians Cambridge has to offer. At only 45 minutes long they are the ideal way to try classical music for the first time.’
What are the highlights Andrew is most looking forward to in the coming months? ‘Walton’s Facade in November. Expect a riotous performance from CUCO. Later that month Brahms’ Double Concerto with Guy Johnston and Matthew Trusler, which should be an excellent performance of an underplayed work. In December the Schumann piano concerto with Kausikan Rajeshkumar, plus Vaughan Williams’ 5th, the third movement of which is my favourite piece of music of all time.’
Finally I asked Andrew for a message to the student community. ‘Give it a go. It will make you look oh so very cultured without having to ponce around in funny clothes at the ADC. There’s no charge for lunchtimes and it’s only £5 for evening concerts so get on down to West Road!’
Sounds like an offer you can’t refuse.
Classical Gigs of The Week
TUESDAY 12th OCTOBER 1pm, West Road, Britten Sinfonia
WEDNESDAY 13th 1pm, Emmanuel URC, StrangeWorld. 8pm, Pembroke, Mark Padmore (tenor), Joseph Middleton (piano)
FRIDAY 15th, 1.10pm Kettle’s Yard, Stephanie Dyer (trombone). 1.10pm Mumford Theatre, Mark Ashford (guitar). 7.45pm, Caius, Cambridge Chamber Ensemble
SATURDAY 16th, 12noon, West Road, City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra. 12noon, Trinity, Julian Perkins (clavichord). 1pm, Michaelhouse, Songs for Autumn. 1.30pm, Wolfson, Prime Brass. 6.30pm, King’s, Ben-San Lau (organ). 6.30pm, John’s, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. 7pm, West Road, King’s Singers. 7.30pm, St Giles, Cambridge Symphonic Winds. 7.30pm, St Mark’s Church Newnham, Classico Latino. 8pm, Jesus, Orlando Singers
SUNDAY 17th, 1.15pm, Fitz Museum, Granta Chorale. 6pm, John’s, Michael Harris (organ)
Quote of the Week
“I’m not quite sure about these Sampsons, but it’s good to see so many Delilahs in the orchestra!” Overheard at West Road, 8th October.