Abergavenny Symphony Orchestra, King Henry VIII School

5:01pm Monday 28th November 2011

By Nigel Jarrett

There's a special joy in watching amateur symphony orchestras tackle music normally associated with professionals in the concert hall.

It's the realisation that, though they might not be the Berlin Philharmonic, they are enthusiastically applying the results of hard work at rehearsal.

The Abergavenny Symphony Orchestra are a plucky band of players who seem totally unfazed by the music they present.

A mix of keen amateurs, students, semi-pros and professionals, they mustered all they needed for a performance of Mahler's Fourth Symphony, arguably their most ambitious symphonic undertaking of recent times.

It was conductor Brian Weir's penultimate concert before he steps down after eleven years. The 37-year-old Ulsterman has raised both standards and musical expectations and impressed upon the orchestra that music as a journey should take no longer and no shorter than is necessary.

The route of Mahler's Fourth is one of gradually diminishing complexity ending in a song of innocence. The song was beautifully delivered by soprano Emily Griffiths after the orchestra had prepared the way with a carefully-measured slow movement.

In Mahler, the orchestra's sections and individuals are often nakedly exposed. In the Fourth that included on this occasion leader Adrian Cook and the specially-pitched 'street fiddle' he has to use in the second movement.

Former Philharmonia principal Meyrick Alexander was the busy soloist in Weber's Bassoon Concerto in F, taking as much from the orchestra as he gave to them in exploring the instrument's byways.

The evening opened briskly with Humperdinck's overture to the opera Hansel and Gretel, in this case an overture to part of the Romantic tradition itself.

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