Debussy: Petite Suite (‘En bateau’, ‘Cortège’, ‘Minuet’, and ‘Ballet’)
Mozart: Piano concerto no.25 in C, K.503 (allegro maestoso; andante; allegretto)
Brahms: Symphony no.2, Op.73 (allegro non troppo; adagio non troppo; allegretto grazioso
(quasi andantino); allegro con spirito)
Wellington Chamber Orchestra, Emma Sayers (piano), conducted by Kenneth Young
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
Sunday, 3 July 2011,2.30pm
Another ambitious programme from Wellington’s major amateur orchestra was this time conducted by a leading and very experienced musician. His encouraging attitude was very apparent, and the orchestra responded well. Although this orchestra is named a chamber orchestra, it more often these days plays works for symphony orchestra, as in this programme.
Debussy’s Petite Suite, originally written for piano in the late 1880s, was arranged for full orchestra by Henri Busser (1872-1973). This delightful work is in four movements, each with music clearly illustrative of its title, the rocking of the boat in the first movement being the most obvious. The marching band in the second reminds the audience that it is a procession (only in English is the word cortège used solely for a funeral procession), while after the lovely minuet, the ballet is of an extremely energetic kind.
The first movement featured interesting and enchanting interplay between harp and flutes, in which a young harpist revealed a high level of competence. Throughout, the music was tuneful, joyous, varied, and unveiled the splendid orchestration. The brass finally got to contribute in the bouncy final movement. The playing was not faultless, but the band gave a good account of this attractive work.
The Mozart piano concerto called for a smaller orchestra, there being no harp, no clarinets, only one flute and fewer strings.
Emma Sayers played strongly, but with plenty of subtlety and light and shade, and a fine, light touch, appropriate for Mozart. At all times she played with clarity, as befits this composer.
The cadenza for the first movement was written by conductor and composer Kenneth Young. He made very appealing use of Mozart’s themes. This cadenza was not showy for the sake of it, but did incorporate some un-Mozartean harmonies to betray its recent origin.
After it, Young gave Sayers an appreciative smile.
In the andante there was much exposed playing for winds. The horns did not always come out of this successfully – a difficult instrument indeed (and presumably even more difficult if the musicians had been playing the valve-less horns of Mozart’s time). The sound was often rather heavy for the rest of the orchestra to compete with. The flute played frequently in concert with the oboes, making a most attractive sound.
While it is good to see children in the audience at an orchestral concert (no doubt they were family members of the players), it is a pity their carers think it necessary to give them sweets with noisy wrappers to rustle when the orchestra is playing something as delicate as the andante in Mozart’s concerto, thus interfering with audience members’ enjoyment.
The winds were able to let fly in the last movement, and they acquitted themselves well.
The final work in this appealing programme was a massive one. Perhaps this great symphony was a little too difficult for the orchestra. Intonation problems struck at the beginning: unfortunately the opening was not the horns’ best moment; later they had some better ones. There were four horns,
three trombones, and tuba. In the louder part of the second movement, and elsewhere, this brass choir was rather too noisy for the rest of the orchestra. The solo oboe theme in the third movement was beautifully played, as was the whole of that movement.
Trombones also had moments of difficulty, but they and the tuba came into their own in the last section of the last movement; they had plenty of power in the fortissimo passages. However, this venue is not really large enough to take the sound of a symphony orchestra playing at that level with modern brass instruments.
All of that said, the work developed well, and the extra strings contributed to a mainly admirable sonority in that department. Details and themes came through well, and syncopation at the end of the first movement and in the second movement was crisp and clear.
It was good to see and hear an amateur orchestra alive and well, and playing fine music. Obviously this was not a performance at professional level, but it was creditable nonetheless. Aberrations of intonation were the main problem; dynamics, themes, rhythm were all well observed, and the concert represented a considerable achievement.