City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra

HARRY DADSWELL is charmed by a bunch of amateurs, and keeps a straight face for Brahms’ First Symphony.

Brahms city of cambridge symphony orchestra classical music classical music cambridge Erdem Misirlioglu Lone Ranger Rachmaninov Robert Hodge rossini Scriabin william tell overture

City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, Saturday 20th October

Amateur orchestras have their own particular charms: the occasional octogenarian violinist struggling to keep up, the unpretentious, even workman-like demeanour of the players, the forgiving home crowd. Yet the most marked contrast with the slick performances of metropolitan orchestras is the lurking element of uncertainty. You can feel the nervousness. A dodgy solo will prompt a frank shake of the head by the soloist. Will things go right on the night?

The opening work, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, betrayed signs of this nervousness. The exposed opening prelude, set for five solo cellos, was a little tentative and off-key. The trombones were scrappy in the depiction of a storm which followed: plenty of belch on the long notes but fluffy on the short. However, when it came to the finale, famed as the theme of Lone Ranger, we got new-found gusto and tighter ensemble.

The orchestra reached new heights with Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The young soloist, Erdem Misirlioglu, dispatched this challenging work with an impression of ease. The orchestra in turn fed off this confidence. They achieved a rich supporting sound in the lyrical passages and were generally able to keep up in the contrasting fast interludes. That said, such was Erdem’s virtuosity that his crispness sometimes highlighted the frayed edges of the orchestral interjections.

Nonetheless, the piece was very well received by the audience. Called back onto the stage for an encore, Erdem treated the audience to Scriabin’s Prelude for the left hand, an exquisite and introspective work bringing a moment of repose after the pyrotechnics of the concerto.

It was in Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 that the orchestra faced its real test. This is a serious work, written over the course of 21 years by a man who described the task of composing a symphony as “no laughing matter”. The conductor Robert Hodge did an admirable job in guiding the orchestra through it, the music chugging along in a stately if slightly wheezing manner. Things went up a notch in the fourth movement with a particularly brooding opening.

Despite some sagging string playing in the transition, excellent horn and flute solos revived anticipation for the final exultant melody. This was kept at a steady tempo and restrained dynamic before the final flurry of the ending. One could read the beaming faces of the players as they absorbed the applause of the audience. Things had come together on the night after all.