Symphony No.8 in C minor [1890 version ed. Haas]
The Thorington Players
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 24 October, 2004
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
David Cairns, one of the leading experts on Berlioz, formed The Thorington Players twenty-one years ago, the ensemble’s name taken from Thorington Hall in Suffolk where weekends of chamber music had taken place. The Thorington Players includes in its repertoire numerous chamber pieces of varied instrumentation as well as examples of symphonic repertoire – including Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms and Sibelius, as well as several works of Berlioz – and celebrated being 21 with one of Bruckner’s most far-reaching works, maybe the greatest of his canon.
The Thorington Players is an amateur ensemble and, on the evidence of this concert, is made up of diverse talents. With eleven first violins and five double basses, the fulsome acoustic of St John’s proved in equilibrium and one never felt short-changed in terms of sonority. Making allowances for deficiencies of tuning and unanimity, and actual playing (some excellent, some less so), this performance of Bruckner 8 came off pretty well. Certainly in David Cairns the music was in the hands of a very sympathetic interpreter, one who trusts the composer and who led a rendition of sympathy and conviction, broadly paced but never somnambulant and with a real sense of direction and resolution. Cairns is a clear-enough time-beater and considerate to his players. He got the best results in the Adagio when preferring his hands to, otherwise, a short baton and produced a moving account of this astonishing music; at the climax, a fractionally late first cymbal clash was thought amusing by its perpetuator.
The finale slightly hung fire, a tighter grasp on the disparate material was needed, and there was a lack of focus at times; but Cairns was never apprehensive about giving Bruckner his individual and generous structure unadulterated – Robert Haas’s ignoring Bruckner’s cuts in this movement (and the Adagio) fully justified – and the epic coda found all the players making an immense effort to reach the summit where there was no doubting that this was an uplifting conclusion to a daring undertaking and which was a valiant effort all round.