Brent SO at 90 – 24th November

Tom Kane
Salute and Reflection [first performance]
Coronation March
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Summer Night on the River
Mother Goose – Suite
Chonon Lewis
Birthday Honours [first performance]
Symphony No.4 in E minor

Brent Symphony Orchestra conducted by Levon Parikian

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 24 November, 2001
Venue: St John’s Wood Church, London

Formed in 1911, the Brent Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 90th birthday with several compositions written around that year. In addition, two of its current members composed short pieces, and this ambitious programme closed with a symphonic masterwork.

For many years the BSO’s conductor was Harry Legge, who was closely associated The Rehearsal Orchestra; his indomitable character remains with the BSO under the undemonstrative and focussed Levon Parikian, son of Manoug Parikian, one of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s most distinguished Leaders; Levon’s lucid conducting is ideal to pull together the BSO’s serried ranks.

Rehearsing most Wednesdays, the regular Brent Symphony personnel pay an annual fee to belong; ’extra’ musicians take a fee. The BSO’s three-a-year concerts usually support a charity; for this 90th-birthday bash, Jessie’s Fund was the beneficiary – “helping sick children through the therapeutic power of music”.

In rehearsing his players, Parikian has instilled excellent ensemble, to which they bring their own dedication and different levels of ability. I was though surprised by the vagaries of tuning evident throughout the evening, especially among the strings – I don’t think polytonal Delius will catch on! Also, the ambient glow of the church’s acoustic really invited quieter playing – especially in Delius – and required more attention in rehearsal to tutti balance-checks: brass drowned out the rest in Elgar’s march, which emerged somewhat cacophonously, while over-prominent trumpets in Brahms’s fully scored passages proved irksome.

It says much then for Parikian’s abilities and the Orchestra’s wholeheartedness that the Brahms was especially successful. Perhaps Parikian’s lineage explains why his Brahms 4 reminded me of Klemperer, not in monumentality, but in delineation of structure, to which add a Karajanesque expression of line. Parikian’s was a stark realisation of the music’s tragedy, an interpretation of distinction; rarely is the passacaglia finale’s flute variation as well integrated as here, Amanda Lockhart Knight’s playing expressively curved.

Elgar’s Coronation March was an interesting choice; it’s hardly vintage Elgar but good to hear, notably because Elgar forces the ceremonial gestures. Having regrettably signalled the end of the Edwardian era with his Second Symphony, Elgar was clearly in no mood to welcome a new monarch, or at least write music for the occasion. Delius’s English brand of Impressionism was notably well handled by Parikian – flowing and seamless, barlines all but disappearing. Rachel Scott’s brief solo cello contribution stood out; the woodwinds and horns were personable and poised, albeit the all-important clarinet contribution found the cuckoo a tad tipsy with one unfortunate misreading! A few misplaced percussion entries and a missing cymbal clash in Mother Goose aside, Parikian again balanced poetic shape with sensitive balances, wisely not harrying his players in ’Laideronnette’. Whether ’The Fairy Garden’ could have been more indulgent is to have a different viewpoint of how much pathos can be squeezed out of the music.

Of the new pieces, Chonon Lewis’s would pass as a newly-discovered piece of Schubert juvenilia, while Tom Kane looked to 1950s’ America – glimpses of Copland and Barber before this listener settled on Virgil Thomson. Kane intended his contribution as a “tribute to the hundreds of players, good and bad, who have passed through [the Orchestra’s] ranks”. As a not uncritical commentator, I’m grateful to know Mr Kane’s dedication!

Congratulations to the Brent Symphony Orchestra for its ninety years and to all its musicians, who literally pay for their playing-pleasure, for their commitment and enthusiasm. Everybody did their best: you can ask no more.

This concert supported Jessie’s Fund – Jessica George, a nine-year-old talented musician thwarted by illness from making a musical career. Makes you think.

  • The Brent Symphony Orchestra’s next concert is on 9 March 2002 at Free Church, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London NW11 – Mozart and Schubert
  • The BSO currently has vacancies for string and horn players – contact Lucy Allen (020 7435 0961) or Elizabeth Breeze (020 7794 7834)
  • For more details of Jessie’s Fund and donation-giving, contact Lesley Schatzberger – 01904 658189

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