It must be some years since the SSO did a programme entirely drawn from the 19th century – and pretty much from the first half of that century.
Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream overture is one of the landmark pieces of the young composer’s genius and requires a lightness of touch and clarity to get its delight across. The Pamoja Hall provides that clarity of acoustic and the strings scurrying around at the opening, surely representing the flitting of the fairies, was entirely convincing and almost without embarrassing collisions. The magic moonlight chords from the wind that punctuate the structure are equally demanding and were transparently articulated. In the vigorous passages portraying the rustics and Bottom’s donkey head the orchestra sounded beautifully balanced and thoroughly in tune with the composer’s vision. This was enchanting music making with a Haydn – like classical wit carefully brought out by Darrell Davison’s intelligent, restrained direction of the drama.
Brahms 1st piano concerto is a giant of a piece and although only thirty years younger than the Mendelssohn inhabits a different sound world. Soloist Peter Foggitt had done Gershwin with the SSO almost exactly two years ago in the same hall to great acclaim – and the audience similarly on this occasion were wowed particularly by the last movement’s pianistic pyrotechnics. The clarity of Pamoja’s acoustic was valuable in the sometimes dense textures of the first movement – Foggitt seemed keen to foster a conversation with the orchestra, exploiting the moments of dialogue. The slow movement’s stillness is sometimes hard to capture, maybe an even more lyrical approach to lines from piano and orchestra would have helped – there were moments that felt perhaps a little too correct and mechanical, lacking a relaxed sense of calm. I liked the attacca into the last movement – the propulsion here was supercharged and thrillingly energetic from all involved, great rich sonorities from the Steinway and the SSO and dazzling virtuosity that the audience went to the interval buzzing about.
Beethoven’s Eroica from 1804 still has the power to sound revolutionary. Davison and the SSO gave a revelatory reading of this on Sunday – it’s a huge play and the concentration and intensity was there right up to the last bar. It had energy, clarity, intelligence and a really absorbing sense of progression – the quietness of the audience between movements paradoxically evidence of this; they wanted more. Strings, wind, horns, all have crucial elements to contribute to the argument and it was done with style and delight. Pleasure for the audience undeniable – but it looked as though the SSO were enjoying their work.
[Mention must be made of the pre-encore that started the second half. Ian Lucas’s delightful arrangement for wind octet of Humperdinck’s Evening Prayer was his swan-song as 1st horn – it’s great that the orchestra acknowledges itself as a community, a family, a band of siblings ( couldn’t use ‘brothers’) ]