Review: A Celebration of British Music, Ipswich Symphony Orchestra, Ipswich Corn Exchange, June 23

Ipswich Symphony Orchestra in rehearsal. Photo: Gregg Brown

Ipswich Symphony Orchestra in rehearsal. Photo: Gregg Brown - Credit: Gregg Brown

Three contrasting works by three of Britain’s most significant composers comprised this attractive programme. One work was written during the Second World War and the other two at the time of World War One.

Ipswich Symphony Orchestra in rehearsals. Photo: Gregg Brown

Ipswich Symphony Orchestra in rehearsals. Photo: Gregg Brown - Credit: Gregg Brown

Walton wrote the music to accompany the celebrated Henry V film of 1944, in which Laurence Olivier took the lead role in addition to director and producer. Its success as a public morale raiser was, in no small measure, down to Walton’s technical skill and invention in recreating the period of Agincourt and providing a positive and optimistic background to the action.

The orchestra responded well and there was an immediate sense of expectation from the very beginning. Brass and wind fanfares were crisp and characterful and the strings created a warm and tender atmosphere for the well-known Touch Her Soft Lips.

Conductor Adam Gatehouse, whose red shirt provided a welcome contrast to the black of the orchestra, judged the tempi and moods exactly and delivered a highly enjoyable performance.

The Lark Ascending needs no advocacy and the orchestra immediately set the scene of a perfect English country day. Violin soloist Savitri Grier’s entry was restrained and quiet – possibly a little too quiet – but her tone and intonation were impeccable and she unquestionably captured the atmosphere of the music. The orchestra played its part and added many gentle touches of colour.

From pastoral peace to full-on fury and the 5/4 onslaught of marching armies and mechanised warfare depicted in the opening movement of Holst’s Planets. Gatehouse unleashed a perfect storrm and the bullets whistled overhead. The strings were not entirely comfortable in Venus but Mercury had some slick interweaving between the various parts and Jupiter had jollity in abundance. Saturn produced some splendid playing and rose to an awesome climax.

One of the many challenges in The Planets is the exposed, sinuous writing for female chorus in Neptune. Here, the eighteen singers gave a confident and clear sound which, as the doors quietly closed on them, ended both the work and the evening, on a high, albeit quiet, note.

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Well done everyone.

Gareth Jones