At one of the Royal Academy of Arts current exhibitions, ‘America after the Fall’, there is a painting by Jackson Pollock labelled “Untitled”.
I am sure there are sound artistic reasons for doing this but I always think it is a bit of a cop out. So much work to be done by the viewer! The CSO gave us no such problem in the first half of their Spring concert under conductor Mark Hartt-Palmer.
Grieg’s two ‘Peer Gynt Suites’ provide the music for a vivid tale by Henrik Ibsen and the orchestra had a clear-cut story to tell of this complex mythical character. They rose to the occasion superbly from the moment that the expertly played introductory flute solo began the evening. Taken at a leisurely pace the orchestra captured well ‘Morning Mood’, the first movement of the better known Suite No 1. With effective contrast, the final movement depicting Peer Gynt’s narrow escape from the Trolls (‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’) was all fury and terror with prominent contributions from bassoons, lower strings and percussion. The two middle movements of Suite No 1 are for strings only and, while the latter had some slightly tentative moments, there was lovely rich tone and sensitive playing in the former to depict the death of Peer’s mother.
Suite No 2 opens with ‘Ingrid’s Lament’. Here the agony of Peer’s former lover’s predicament (abducted on her wedding night) was apparent from strong percussion at both ends of the movement in between which came a sensuous melody from the strings among which the violas were especially impressive. There were more skilful effects from the percussion in the strange ‘Arabian Dance’ which was followed by the shipwreck in the third movement. Conductors sometimes use the term “shipwreck” to suggest that all has not quite gone to plan but here it was for real as ‘Peer Gynt’s Homecoming’ is disrupted by a storm. The brass provided realistic thunder while the woodwind (flutes to the fore) skilfully depicted the howling wind. ‘Solveig’s Song’ to finish the work gave more rein to excellent playing from the strings who responded well throughout to guest leader Helena Moore. Claire Wake switched effortlessly from double bass to keyboard (harp).
One of the unusual features of Brahms’ 3rd Symphony which occupied the second half of the concert is that all four movements end quietly but there was nothing restrained about the dramatic opening to the work with its mix of memorable melodies which conductor and orchestra enjoyed to the full. There was some terrific playing from all sections with clear syncopation and effective dynamics. The second movement has some difficult changes of rhythm and tempi which occasionally caused a few problems but the brass (trombones especially secure all evening) provided good ballast. The third movement featured fine exposed playing from principal horn, John Peskett, who was well supported throughout by his three colleagues. The busy last movement may have ended quietly like the others but certainly not tamely. There was nothing tame about this very enjoyable concert.
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