Review: Ipswich Orchestral Society, Corn Exchange, June 27th

Violinist Jennifer Pike

Violinist Jennifer Pike - Credit: Archant

For their summer concert the orchestra offered a programme which was, in some ways, a concert of two halves; the first half comprising some less familiar and lighter music followed by one of the cornerstones of the nineteenth century symphonic canon.

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his Russian Easter Festival Overture in 1888 and it is a good example of the composer’s foremost skill, vivid and imaginative orchestration. All sections of the orchestra took their opportunities for a spell in the spotlight and there was much characterful and committed playing even if the music itself is something of a victory for style over substance.

Violinist Jennifer Pike was the youngest ever winner of the BBC Young Musician when she won the competition as a 12 year old in 2002, since when she has forged a distinguished career, particularly as an advocate for new and hitherto little known music. Step forward Miklos Rozsa – who? I freely admit ignorance. Certainly better known as the composer of the film score for Ben-Hur than for his Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song, his early years of composition were financially unsuccessful but he later found fame and fortune in Hollywood. This work for violin and orchestra had some arresting passages and characteristically Hungarian sounds and Jennifer made a persuasive case for it. This was followed by the more familiar Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens and the soloist perfectly captured the elegance and charm of the violin line. The orchestral accompaniment was sharp and alert under the crisp beat of conductor Adam Gatehouse.

Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony contains some of his most soul-baring music, particularly in the first movement which must count among the greatest things he ever wrote. It is technically demanding – F minor and 9/8 for a start – and a severe test for even the best of amateur orchestras (which includes this one). The opening brass fanfares set the standard and the wind and strings took up the challenge as the uneasy music at the start of the allegro unfolded. The transitions and contrasts between the climaxes and the dreamy, relaxed sections were well managed and the coda sealed the movement in a fury of sound. There was fine playing from the oboe at the start of the slow movement and characterful contributions from other wind elsewhere. The conductor held the third movement together well, while still allowing its heady spirit to shine through. The extrovert finale (more ballet than symphony, but still great fun) was driven with great spirit and energy to a rousing conclusion. Well done everyone.

Gareth Jones

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