Abergavenny Symphony Orchestra, Our Lady and St Michael's Church, Abergavenny

12:54pm Tuesday 28th April 2009

By Nigel Jarrett

Ambition knows no bounds – well, not many – in the ranks of Britain’s part-time and amateur orchestras when they appear before the public at regular intervals.

That’s partly because they are peopled by trained musicians who know the ropes.

Balance is a different matter, especially where the orchestra has vacancies and its less well-populated sections are always in danger of being overwhelmed by their pushier neighbours.

It was a problem surmounted with sheer energy and conviction by the Abergavenny Symphony Orchestra in Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, a complex work really demanding bigger forces which it nevertheless met head on.

But before that the orchestra’s strings joined Catherine Handley for Malcolm Arnold’s Flute Concerto Op. 45, demonstrating how well a first-class soloist playing faultlessly and with flair can concentrate minds, even though a nano-second separated the two parties at the finishing line.

Moreover, this concerto found the composer in a darker mood than is normally associated with him and both soloist and orchestra set about it with tingling nervous energy and a fine sense of rapport, knowing there was to be no recourse to the major Arnold weakness of caprice.

Having begun with all cylinders firing in Glinka’s overture to Russlan and Ludmilla, the orchestra began a more exploratory consideration of the Russian mood in the symphony.

Luckily its long journey is landmarked by glorious melody and while the elaborations of musical structure could have been less diffuse, conductor Brian Weir made sure everyone clung to the great tunes and was not always tempted to confront the work’s excitement – well, over-excitedly.

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