Music for a May Evening

Two pieces for small orchestra: On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring; Summer Night on the River
Solomon – Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
The Banks of Green Willow
Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Invenzione, Op.8 – Concerto No.1 in E (Spring from The Four Seasons)
Il Trovatore – Il balen del suo sorriso
Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 (Italian)

Robert Gibbs (violin)

Edward Price (baritone)

New Queen’s Hall Orchestra
John Farrer

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 17 May, 2006
Venue: St Luke’s Church, Sydney Street, Chelsea, London

A charity concert benefiting The National Osteoporosis Society and the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra with HRH The Duchess of Cornwall (President of the former and Patron of the latter) in attendance, the spacious church offering sanctuary from the rain and with a “cleaner” acoustic (I borrow the word!) than might have been anticipated.

The gut strings and the seasoned and ear-catching character of the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra’s ‘old-style’ woodwinds and brass made for a beguiling mix of timbres while the impromptu skills of these adept musicians under the alert guidance of John Farrer brought alive some popular favourites in a well-chosen programme.

Delius’s two pieces glowed, instruments and acoustic in accord, the ‘cuckoo’ piece evolving naturally and gently dancing, the bird itself smoothly calling through the mellow tones of Keith Puddy’s clarinet. The aquatic companion that Delius scribed was given with appropriate fluidness and seemed to anticipate Bax’s The Garden of Fand. Then the Queen of Sheba arrived lustily and regally with telling dynamic contrasts, with ‘Spring’, from Vivaldi’s seasonal concertos, also pleasingly unencumbered with ‘period’ niceties, other than those that occur organically from this particular orchestra. Edward Price, a member of the BBC Singers, and one of the prizes in the raffle (to give a recital in the winner’s home), and here the Count di Luna, brought mellifluous timbres and breadth of phrase to Verdi; a little more dramatic weight would have been welcome, maybe, although Verdi’s pizzicato scene-setting established the mood immediately.

Especially fine was the Butterworth, so much more than a pastoral idyll, its core movingly captured here from the off – from Keith Puddy’s intrinsic solo. (I just happen to know this musician’s name; otherwise, Robert Gibbs aside, the leader for the evening and the soloist in the Vivaldi, the orchestra’s personnel were not listed in the programme.) Elgar’s ‘Song of Night’ was especially eloquent, lingered over but not indulged, and revealing of the feelings that lie therein.

This without-interval concert culminated in a poised, well-balanced Italian Symphony. The NQHO’s particular instruments, including welcome less-loud brass that help to achieve such integration, with John Farrer and the players tailoring the performance to the setting, gave an unforced and joyful account, the middle movements respectively crepuscular and graceful, with, in the outer movements, woodwinds contributing dextrously.

The New Queen’s Hall Orchestra doesn’t solicit perfection; rather it seeks music’s spirit of adventure, of playing it there and then. Not everything here was felicitous, but the odd passing gremlin was secondary to the liveliness and sensitivity of the performances. A virtually full house, in what is a large church, no doubt swelled the coffers of both beneficiaries, both organisations depositing literature about themselves and the NQHO also leaving everyone a copy of its most recent CD, Brahms’s Second Symphony being the main work.

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