Spring Concert 8 March 2008
This year’s spring concert by the DSO consisted of four pieces for the full orchestra. No concerto for guest soloist, but plenty of opportunities to show off the DSO’s collective talents, and those of individual soloists from within the orchestra.
I have to admit not to being an enormous fan of Sibelius’s Finlandia. I keep waiting for the big tune to arrive, but then remember that I’m confusing it with the Karelia Suite. What you get, instead of a big tune, is plenty of rhythmic excitement, and some very rich sonorities. The excitement and shivery rhythms must have gone down well if you were a fervent Finn shivering near to the border with the Russian menace, but somehow sitting cosily in All Saints Church at the end of a very mild winter, the patriotic fervour doesn’t quite click in enough. Having said that, the piece got a terrific performance, headed up by the DSO’s guest conductor Sinead Hayes. The sonorities were amply provided by the ‘heavy brass’, and then by the massed string section, in super-rich mode.
The Dvorak tone poem ‘The Water Goblin’ is not a familiar piece, and it is a great idea for the DSO and Julian Williamson to give us all three of the set in three concerts this season. The ghoulish folk tale is of course programmatic, and detailed. So the episodes exploit the contrasting colours of different instruments, and give plenty of opportunities for orchestral solos and for sectional ensembles. I was particularly impressed by the different woodwind colours, both solos and in combination, and some fun and games from the large percussion section. The problem with extended programmatic pieces like this is that I do tend to lose track of the details of the plot. I feel the need for actual pictures to go with the
pictorial music! I found myself wondering what Disney would have made of this piece if he had made a cartoon of it like he did of Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia. Mickey Mouse for the Water Goblin? …Maybe not…
Johann Strauss’s Emperor Waltzes went down a storm. It’s a lovely long piece - a medley of linked waltzes; I wonder whether too long for the Emperor and the Kaiser to have actually danced to it. Nonetheless we should all have been up and dancing in the aisles and slashing the seats… Well, perhaps not - All Saints is a church after all, and the seats are wooden! The linking passages at the start, after the march introduction, and at the end were very nicely handled by Nicky Jackson’s solo cello, backed by faultless woodwind. Elsewhere through the waltzes the DSO’s different instruments achieved an appropriate creamy blend.
Sibelius’s first symphony, like Finlandia, is an ‘early’ work, from 1899, though ‘early’ goes in inverted commas in the case of Sibelius because he was a comparatively late starter (compared with say Schubert or Mozart who were already dead by this age). It does mean that Sibelius, when he embarked on his series of purely instrumental symphonies, had established an individual, and unmistakable voice of his own. After the opening clarinet solo, the first movement can tend to feel a bit disjointed, with one melodic idea following another in quick succession. But we are soon rewarded by the ‘big tune’, and the opportunity for the DSO strings to show off their bowing. The brass had some wonderful moments (including a nice prominent solo for the tuba) but I was left with the overwhelming impression of the last movement’s soaring ‘big tune’ carried in unison by all the massed strings playing seamlessly together.
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