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

4:02pm Monday 12th April 2010

By Nigel Jarrett

If marks were awarded to amateur orchestras for the warmth of welcome they give a conductor, Abergavenny's would deserve a full set.

Eugene Monteith stepped up at this early Spring concert as the first of its guests during regular conductor Brian Weir’s sabbatical.

He arrived with the appropriate A Comedy Overture by Hamilton Harty to open the proceedings, a work full of impish invention as well as Irish flavour by a compatriot who was also a conductor.

The orchestra never does things by halves, steaming through this opener as though gleefully accepting Mr Monteith's calling-card before launching into Elgar's Sea Pictures, featuring the young mezzo-soprano Sally Martin as soloist.

She projected with confidence, justifying it in each of the work's five sections by intelligently exploiting her mezzo range from its lower regions to its richly-textured heights, though sometimes having to steer a course through some overly storm-tossed accompaniment.

In The Swimmer, its final section, the choppy waters put her off her stroke for a bar or two. To her credit she quickly regained it.

The orchestra always rallies for the climactic finales of large works, the Brahms First Symphony no exception. In other parts, for example the development of material before the return of the second movement’s opening theme, a less hasty and less speedy course may have produced more refinement.

That said, it’s difficult to avoid the work’s epic grandeur. A big sound was needed and was dutifully produced, if at times a trifle harshly.

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