SUMMER CONCERT, June 27th 2015, Colyer-Fergusson Hall : Into the 19th Century

The Canterbury Orchestra gave a dynamic account of two contrasting styles in tonight’s concert at the Colyer-Fergusson Hall, as the cleanly-etched Beethoven of the First Symphony & Coriolan Overture was paired with the more texturally-nuanced Mendelssohn, in the latter’s Violin Concerto and Hebrides Overture

 It made for a varied programme, and gave the orchestra much opportunity to show off their commitment to focused ensemble playing & sense of dynamic, well-drilled as they are under conductor Andrew Lowen. The Coriolan Overture’s crescendi were built fluidly without overspill and the various points of structure were punctuated nicely, with an emergent sense of tragedy that culminated in a forceful cadence in the minor towards the close. 

 The main event of the evening’s first half was the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, which seemed almost startling texturally in comparison with the lean writing of the Beethoven. The orchestra did a fine job in handling the palette of the opening, and were alternately subtle and carefully powerful throughout the work. Credit here must also go to the woodwind section, who were delicate but incisive when called upon. Leader and soloist Amanda Wyatt gave a fantastic performance, handling with equal commitment the pathos of the first movement and the delicate effervescence of the finale. Throughout her playing was assured and rich in variety, her solo line shifting in focus from foreground to background; at times the focal point, and at others darting into darkness. 

 Dovetailing with its richer counterpart, the Hebrides Overture was an effective opening to the second half and surged in all the right places. This was again a work that demanded much control of subtle textures and despite a little unsteadiness of tone in this unforgiving acoustic, on the whole the Orchestra were able to give a good account of the Overture’s orchestral palette. In the more withdrawn moments the strings were suitably icy, and a softly penetrating passage scored for clarinets lent a moment of delicacy towards the end of the work.

 At the close of the evening we returned to Beethoven. It would be disingenuous to pretend that the opening of the First Symphony (which presents, successively, a series of phrases in the ‘wrong’ key) still surprises modern ears; what must surely be of greater importance is the character passed on by the performers. To their great credit the Canterbury Orchestra got this entirely right, holding for a short but quizzical moment the silence between each pair of chords – although the modern listener may not immediately grasp the oddity of the notes themselves, their pacing tonight managed to restore some of their hesitant beauty. 

The remainder of the piece showed great verve and exuberance, particularly in the opening movement and at the close of the fourth. What was striking indeed was the way that the spareness of the material lent itself well to the less-than-symphonic size of the Orchestra’s string sections; there was a real grit & muscularity to the orchestral sound in the many moments of commanding loudness that Beethoven asks for here, so different from the endless recordings of this symphony by grander ensembles. Although dictated by circumstance rather than artistic choice, this limitation provided everyone present with a fresh perspective on the work – it is for these opportunities that we should treasure our amateur orchestras a little more than we do.

Sam Messer

June 2015

More Information

Canterbury Arts CouncilDetails of forthcoming concerts are also listed in the Events Diary of the Canterbury Arts Council website and on the Orchestra's Facebook page.

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