London Schools Symphony Orchestra

Danse sacrée et danse profane
Tod und Verklärung, Op.24
Götterdämmerung – Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey;Siegfried’s Funeral Music; Immolation Scene

Cecilia Sultana de Maria (harp)

Alwyn Mellor (soprano)

London Schools Symphony Orchestra
Peter Ash

Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins

Reviewed: 25 September, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The London Schools Symphony Orchestra has been giving concerts with school-age musicians since 1951. For its third and final concert of 2007 the conductor was the LSSO’s Artistic Director, Peter Ash, and presented an ambitious programme of works.

Debussy’s attractive Danse sacrée et danse profane, for harp and string orchestra, was an ideal opener. Cecilia Sultana de Maria, a member of the LSSO, gave a technically impressive and engaging performance, supported by sensitive and accurate playing by the orchestra.

In Tod und Verklärung, following the introduction, the orchestra seemed to suffer a loss of confidence, with a number of off-key entries from the woodwind, and the eight-strong horn section also had a number of difficulties. Fortunately, it was still possible to appreciate the exquisite solo violin playing from the orchestra’s leader, Ning-Yi Xiang. Confidence crept back with the first allegro section and the quality of the playing gradually improved. By the time of the work’s climax, based on the work’s ‘idealism’ theme, the music-making was incandescent. Combined with the beautiful coda, the result was very moving. A real transfiguration had been achieved.

After the interval, the LSSO played scenes from “Götterdämmerung”. The opening of ‘Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey’ featured sensitive playing from the cellos and double basses, the long melodic line carefully sustained by the conductor. The horn-players, having by now recovered their form, gave a superb rendition of the Siegfried theme. After a lively Rhine Journey, the piece concluded with some very atmospheric playing from the tuba and other lower-pitch instruments. In ‘Siegfried’s Funeral Music’, the orchestra were inspired to playing of enormous intensity, with thrilling trumpets and perfectly timed cymbal crashes.

Peter Ash and the orchestra had clearly been saving the best for last, however. One of the features of “Götterdämmerung” is that the music is full of reminiscences of themes from earlier in the “The Ring” tetralogy, and nowhere more so than in the ‘Immolation Scene’. I doubt that many of the players are familiar with the complete cycle, but the themes for Valhalla, the Rhinemaidens and the Magic Fire, among others, were all vividly brought to life. With Alwyn Mellor providing an assured, affecting Brünnhilde, and because of excellent playing, the music surged forward to an electrifying final climax.

I would have been thrilled hearing a concert such as this from a professional orchestra, but from the young players of the LSSO under their fine conductor it was nothing less than astonishing.

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