Review: Ipswich Orchestral Society, Summer Concert, Corn Exchange, June 28

Revolutions tend to be associated with wars and the overthrow of governments but they also occur in the arts and Saturday’s concert by the Ipswich Orchestral Society featured not merely three outstanding composers, all of whom took music in new directions, but three particularly significant and forward-looking compositions from the first half of the nineteenth century.

The overture to Wagner’s opera ‘The Flying Dutchman’ is a concert-hall favourite, not least for the brilliant depiction of the raging sea and the memorable simplicity and power of the Dutchman’s motif. Against a strong wall of sound the brass blazed like an inferno and there was much skilful playing through to the final ethereal bars. The upper strings had an exposed and testing few bars but Wagner’s string writing is notoriously difficult and they emerged with credit.

Musical revolutions do not necessarily require sound and fury, as Beethoven’s G major piano concerto shows. Hitherto, such works had an orchestral introduction prior to the appearance of the soloist but in this concerto roles are reversed and Noriko Ogawa played the opening phrase with exemplary clarity, receiving a harmonically distant orchestral response as the movement began to unfold. Her playing was technically accomplished and the rising and falling piano lines were firmly controlled but still with space to breathe, although the piano was at times too loud which resulted in the loss of some of the nuances and shadings which are part of the fabric of this work. In the finale, the pianist astutely captured the contrasting march-like and lyrical moods and the orchestra and conductor were alert and subtly responsive throughout. It was a particular pleasure to welcome back to Ipswich Noriko Ogawa in the remarkable double of role of soloist and patron of the Orchestral Society.

If one single work were to be taken as exemplifying musical revolution it would be difficult to avoid choosing Berlioz’s eternally amazing Symphonie Fantastique. It was (and remains) totally original, with nothing like it before or since and it was this sense of excitement and discovery that was the outstanding feature of the performance. For this, conductor Adam Gatehouse deserves high praise and his understanding of, and passion for, the music clearly transferred to the orchestra. The originality and inspiration of the music coursed through the players and the glitter of the chandeliers in the ball scene – to take just one example of many – was palpable. This was a performance to cherish, and, should the composer have chanced to listen in, I think he would have recognised that the spirit of his creation had been captured - and given an approving nod.

Gareth Jones

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