Dartford Symphony Orchestra

Tragic Overture, Op.81
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43

Sarah Freestone (violin)

Dartford Symphony Orchestra
Rupert Bond

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 12 June, 2004
Venue: Mick Jagger Centre for the Performing Arts, Dartford, Kent

The community spirit of the Dartford Symphony Orchestra was in full bloom in this the final concert of its 57th season.

The Mick Jagger Centre (he’s an alumnus of the nearby Dartford Grammar School) can seat up to around 350 people. It has an excellent acoustic – one detailed and immediate while avoiding harshness and glare. The lack of reverberation is another plus-point. It was good to see the place virtually full, and although there were a few examples of people opening sweet-wrappers during the music (the latest unacceptable trend at concerts), at least no mobile phones went off, and nor was there applause between movements. Sadly one approaches concerts these days anticipating a lack of etiquette.

Equally, in this digital and presentation-conscious age, one wonders to what lengths organisations will go in order to entice audiences. All praise then to the DSO for its sense of tradition – it doesn’t resort to amplification or flashing lights (either one would have this reviewer racing for the exit). A DSO concert is all about sitting and listening – just as it should be: intelligent listening requires nothing more.

The programme booklet, though, wasn’t so hot, with various inaccuracies and inconsistencies – not all keys, opus numbers and movements were detailed; Tragic Overture had an erroneous “The” added; and a 1977 “Time Capsule” section on Stokowski (because he only got to record Tragic Overture in that year, as a nonagenarian) wasn’t the last word on accuracy – for example, none of his West Ham Central Mission recordings were made for Decca.

The performances had an involving and committed quality that the DSO – regulars and guests – can be proud of, and praise to Rupert Bond for his balancing of his forces. A general problem today is the loudness of brass instruments; they rarely intruded here but were always pertinently sounded. Woodwinds carried effortlessly (the DSO has real prowess in this section); and the strings’ relative lack of personnel didn’t preclude fullness of timbre.

Brahms’s Tragic Overture was trenchantly played, Bond’s well-chosen tempos capturing a heavy heart and dogged spirit; and his picking-out of horn-detail added a touch of well-aimed drama.

Inevitably, with an orchestra of the DSO’s ‘status’, there were some blips, uncertainties, and disagreements over tuning – of little consequence though given the musical focus displayed. The rendition of Max Bruch’s evergreen concerto was at its best in the lyrical passages. Tactfully accompanied by Bond, Sarah Freestone (one of the DSO’s leaders, and a guitarist, a performer of a wide range of musical genres, and a director of music-theatre projects) played her opening bars with touching simplicity that boded well. Unfortunately she was then far too deliberate with the faster music of the first movement and made very heavy weather of the finale, the tempo half-speed, not itself an issue, but which seemed dictated by caution. There were some moments of awkwardness and intonational lapses. The slow movement was movingly played and, overall, it was good to hear this wonderful piece not subjected to ego or empty display.

Rupert Bond gave a broad account of the Sibelius, which hovered close to 50 minutes (the average is around 45), the only miscalculation being the ‘first rehearsal’ tempo for the scherzo – surely better to ‘go for it’ and catch the music’s spirit. Otherwise, this was a rendition of care and finesse, one with a long-term view, the first movement launched with restraint (in manner and tempo), a pastoral mood created, the symphony’s contrasts and stoicism then built inexorably, the search for (Finnish) independence implicitly suggested, and maintained through the second movement (despite being a bit short on volatility) and finale, the progress to triumph indomitably tracked.

A good evening, then, one suggesting I shouldn’t leave it another 30 years before returning; I had a school-friend who was a cellist in the DSO back then and I went to several of its concerts in my teens.

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