End of the musical year for Wellington Chamber Orchestra with an Emperor and Franck’s symphony

Wellington Chamber Orchestra
Conductor and piano soloist: Andrew Atkins

Verdi: La Forza del Destino overture
Beethoven: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.5 in E flat major. op.73 ‘The Emperor’
César Franck: Symphony in D minor, FWV 48

St. Andrews on the Terrace

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Verdi: La Forza del Destino overture
The overture to Verdi’s opera, ‘The Power of Fate’ is much more popular than the opera itself. It encapsulates the drama of the opera, its lyricism and its wonderful melodies. It opens with three unison chords for the brasses, followed by repeated agitated phrases by the lower strings, which foreshadows the tragedy of the drama to follow. A beautiful mournful theme from Act 3 of the opera is introduced by the winds, followed by the haunting prayer of Leonora, the heroine of the story, played by the strings, and towards the end of the overture a theme from Act 2 is played by the oboe and winds, suggesting the emotional resolution and redemption before Leonora death. It was a great opening for the concert, testing all sections of the orchestra. Some beautiful playing by the wind solo stood out. This was a colourful lyrical reading of the piece. Andrew Atkins conducted with graceful movements and a clear beat.

Beethoven: Emperor Concerto
This concerto, Beethoven’s longest and arguably his most dramatic, is a challenge even for seasoned pianists who play it repeatedly on international concert tours. For a young musician without the benefit of such opportunities and conducting from the keyboard, this is bordering on chutzpah. But from the very beginning, the opening runs on the piano, it was evident that Andrew Atkins was up to the challenge. His playing was sensitive, lyrical, and confident.

The orchestra provided a sound support notwithstanding the distraction of the conductor jumping up and down from the keyboard during the tutti passages. The chorale of the second movement, with the fine interaction between the soloist and the orchestra stood out for its sensitivity. The last movement reflected the sense of joy of the performers. To the great credit of soloist and orchestra, every note sounded carefully considered, yet this did not detract from the natural flow of the music. For an encore, Andrew Atkins played a beautiful meditative piece, Liszt’s Consolation No.3, with the flair of a fine pianist and with a true love of music.

Franck: Symphony in D minor
César Franck’s Symphony is a difficult nut to crack. It is an amalgam of the German tradition of Wagner and Liszt, it quotes late Beethoven, yet has a certain French sensitivity. In its form it differs from the classical symphonic model of Haydn to Brahms. It is in three movements which are interrelated. The opening themes keep recurring in modified form as they modulate throughout the symphony. It is one of the landmarks of the symphonic repertoire. It starts with a hardly audible pianissimo on the lower strings, echoing the Muss es sein? (Must it be?) phrase from Beethoven’s Op 135 String Quartet, then a piercing cor anglais solo introduces the main theme. This theme recurs throughout symphony in different forms, slow and fast, expansive and agitated.

The orchestra rose to the technical challenges of the work, but somehow the tempi sounded driven and variable. I felt that the brass were not given the space to fly, or the strings the air to let the music sing. The subtlety of the symphony was somehow missing, The listeners should have been left sitting on the edge of their seats. But let this not detract from the laudable effort of every single musician in the orchestra. Just mastering this complex work deserves credit.

The concert reflected the objective of the orchestra, to ‘enjoy the experience of creating live music together’. Whatever reservations I might have had, it was great to have the opportunity to hear these wonderful works live in Wellington on a Sunday afternoon. We value the talent in our midst.



Leave a Reply

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