Twentieth-Century fare from the Wellington Chamber Orchestra

Wellington Chamber Orchestra

Shostakovich: Symphony no.9 in E flat, Op.70 / Poulenc: 8 Chansons Gaillardes on anonymous 17th century texts

Beethoven: Overture ‘Egmont’, Op.84 / de Falla: El amor brujo

Linden Loader (mezzo soprano) and Roger Wilson (baritone)

Justin Pearce (conductor)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday, 27 June 2010

A well-filled church enjoyed an adventurous programme from this amateur orchestra.  It would be unusual for an amateur orchestra to play an almost entirely twentieth century programme.

The Shostakovich was a difficult and challenging work with which to open the concert.  It is not one of his longest compositions, and makes good use of the orchestra – there is plenty of exciting playing for the winds to do, and the description in the programme note ‘A short witty work full of light and bite’ is apt.  There are hints of Prokofiev-like wit here and there.

The orchestra mostly made a good sound, but uniformity of rhythm and even intonation were uneven at times.  Precise rhythm is especially required for pizzicato playing.  Perhaps this work was a mite too difficult for the orchestra. However, after a slightly shaky start, the players settled.

The second movement, Moderato, featured dramatic and forceful playing from the woodwind band.  Most noticeable throughout, but especially in her extended solo, was the excellent bassoon playing of Kylie Nesbit.  She had lots to do, and always her playing was sonorous and beautiful.  In fact, her playing was a recommendation for the value of this instrument.

While the programme notes were very good, they were somewhat doctrinaire, and some phrases did not make comprehensible English, while some of  the statements did not really apply in 1943-1945, when the symphony was written.  It was good to hear this work played.

Poulenc’s songs to words of both dubious provenance and dubious morals were sung well by Roger Wilson, who was in fine voice and produced the words with clarity.  However, the orchestra did not always display good ensemble, and Justin Pearce, resplendent in red shirt and a silver-backed waistcoat kept everything going.  But frequently the winds were too loud for the voice, the vocal lines in some of the songs (e.g. ‘Chanson à boire’) being in the lower register of the singer’s voice.

The conductor cannot always go by the composer’s markings; balance depends on the size of the auditorium, its acoustic qualities, the size of the orchestra and as well, the size of the audience.  Therefore to achieve it, sometimes the orchestra needs to play more quietly than the composer directs, especially when he calls for full orchestra, or considerable use of brass.

The balance was better in the fourth song, ‘Invocation aux parques’.  It was a succinct song of typical French brevity.  In the following song, ‘Couplets bachiques’, there were again threats of swallowing up the singer.  Poulenc’s typical wit and insouciance were evident.  Next was ‘Loffrande’.  This setting was without brass, so it was possible to hear the words.  It featured another humorous, piquant ending.

‘La belle jeunesse’ achieved a better balance, mainly because most of the phrases were in the higher register.  Here, there was some great brass playing.

The final song, ‘Sérénade’ was the most lyrical of the songs, in a traditional sense.  It was enchanting.  Robyn Jaquiery provided a vital part of the texture, with her inconspicuous piano.

The brass problem affected the Beethoven overture also, at least where I was sitting, in the gallery.  With four horns and two trumpets, the brass accompanying notes were too loud to enable the melodies in the strings and woodwind to be heard clearly.   When the brass was not playing, the balance was good.  It was a stirring performance (apart from a few renegade notes) of the finest of Beethoven’s overtures.

El amor brujo must be one of the favourite works of Spanish composer Manuel de Falla.   Soloist Linden Loader looked the part of a Carmen-like gypsy for this gypsy music, in a red dress and black shawl, matching the red hangings in the church and Justin Pearce’s red shirt.

In the first movement the orchestra generally, and especially the brass, were too loud for the singer, but the second and third movements’ muted string tone with piano was most attractive.  Here, the trumpets too were muted, and made a wonderful sound, particularly in the trumpet solo.  The oboe solo was also excellent.

Unfortunately the programme notes titled only the movements with voice, and not the orchestral ones in between.  The second song, ‘Will-o’-the-wisp’ had better balance, but I felt  that Linden Loader was not singing as well as usual.

In the dreamy movement that followed the strings evoked the mood superbly.  The final song ‘Dance of the game of love’ featured more tone from the soloist, and the lilting and mellow quality we know and love in her singing.  The joyful and cheerful ending of this song brought the concert to a fine close.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *