Review: Ipswich Orchestral Society, Corn Exchange, November 24

Ipswich Orchestral Society, Corn Exchange, November 24

The Ipswich Orchestral Society has established a deserved reputation for combining enterprising programming with high standards of performance and both were on display at the Corn Exchange on Saturday. Sibelius, Richard Strauss, Nielsen and a national and international star soprano soloist – what more could one ask?

Even if Sibelius went on to greater things, his early En Saga remains a fascinating and remarkably original work. Many of the features associated with his music are already evident – rustling strings and piquant woodwind, for example – and the players overcame a few early moments of uncertainty to deliver a convincing and satisfying performance.

Dame Felicity Lott has been singing the operas and songs of Richard Strauss to universal acclaim for more than 30 years and, wonderful as the Four Last Songs are, it was good to hear something different – and what a treat it proved to be. The six songs included some of his best known (Morgen) and some of his most inventive – Three Holy Kings contains some extraordinary and ravishing music. From the very first notes the quality of the truly great artist was on display – that of instant and authoritative communication. Her voice was perfectly in keeping with the music, rich, resonant but also brightly incisive. Adam Gatehouse and the orchestra accompanied her with great sensitivity and the stirring woods of Waldselgeit were wonderfully portrayed. Felicity Lott’s charm and sincerity shone through and it was indeed a privilege to hear her.

Carl Nielsen has his supporters (myself included) and for good reasons, he is a fine symphonist and musical thinker as well as an under-rated writer, but performances of his symphonies still tend to be events rather than the norm. Why? As this admirable performance amply demonstrated there is no shortage of ideas, good tunes and – especially – excitement. There were excellent solos from the wind players, oboe and bassoon particularly, and the strings deserve credit for the way they hurled themselves at some of the most terrifying passages in the repertoire.

One of the challenges of this work is to avoid ‘going over the top’ and notwithstanding some exhilarating contributions from the timpani and brass the conductor brought this magnificent symphony to its conclusion in a blaze of controlled sound, triumphant but not triumphalist. A superb evening.

Gareth Jones

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