Sunday 25 September 2016

A very fine season opening Gala concert from the winning team of the English Symphony Orchestra under their Principal Conductor, Kenneth Woods with pianist Clare Hammond

Mozart’s Overture to Le nozze de Figaro that opened the English Symphony Orchestra’s season at Hereford’s Shirehall this afternoon (Sunday 25th September 2016) brought taut, vibrant playing from the orchestra with terrific ensemble, fire and panache under the direction of their Principal Conductor, Kenneth Woods.

I was lucky enough to have heard the World Premiere of Robert Saxton’s The Resurrection of the Soldiers at this year’s Presteigne Festival. The title is taken form the final panel of Stanley Spencer’s Sandham Chapel series of paintings that depicts soldiers emerging from their graves on the last day. This powerful work for string orchestra develops from a chord through the most wonderful harmonies and textures that immediately bring a real sense of pathos. The music moves through anguished passages that develop some extraordinarily fine string writing with occasional echoes of Tippett. Eventually the music finds a more complex and layered writing before a double bass introduces a slower idea that is taken up by the cellos as it expands through the most beautiful passages to find light at the end.

Kenneth Woods directed a taut, passionate performance of this remarkably impressive work.

Pianist Clare Hammond joined Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor. The orchestra kept up a fine tempo in the opening of the Allegro with some really dynamic playing before the soloist entered bringing a lovely poise, soon finding a tremendous forward drive. She moved from poised, crystalline phrases to passages of tremendous flow and texture, reaching moments of fine tension with contrasting dynamics from the orchestra with a terrific Beethoven cadenza, brilliantly played yet never overblown.

Poise certainly applied to the second movement Romanza with Hammond beautifully shaping the solo part, finding a lovely restraint with a crisp and articulate central section. The concluding Allegro assai brought a terrify volatility with terrific clarity and purity of line from this soloist who found some lovely little details with a taut orchestral accompaniment from the ESO. The cadenza was wonderfully phrased before a wonderful lead up to the coda.

The second half of this season’s opening concert was given over to Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor with Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra bringing a fine sweep to the Molto allegro, revealing fine textures and colours. They breathed fresh life into this popular symphony, with lovely clarity of phrasing. The andante had a lovely rhythmic pulse with some superb woodwind phrases as well as a lovely clarity of texture and fine phrasing –exquisitely done. There was a robust Menuetto with spot on phrasing yet with a real sense of drive and spontaneity before a Finale that brought a fleet, light texture with some lovely string playing and more fine wind passages, whipping up some terrific passages before the coda. 

This was a very fine opening concert from this team that goes from strength to strength.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

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