Concert Reviews

Concert Reviews arranged by season

Concert Reviews 2017-2018

Chopin 2nd Piano Concerto

Hannah Mitchell
  • Piano: Hannah Mitchell
  • Guest Conductor: Tim Pithers
  • Rossini: Overture Semiramide
  • Chopin:  Piano Concerto no 2
  • Brahms: Symphony no 2

Following the retirement of Stephen Smith after seven years as our Musical Director, the orchestra engaged different guest conductors for each of the concerts in the 2017-2018 season. The first of these conductors, Tim Pithers, gained a double first in Music and French at Exeter University, and has a fine reputation. He is currently (as of November 2017) working with a number of orchestras and ensembles based in the South West.

The soloist in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 was Hannah Mitchell who also studied at Exeter University and then at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Hannah is now a very established performer, teacher and examiner based in South Wales where she is also half of the musical piano/flute duo “Tranquillo”.

The concert began with arguably one of Rossini’s finest overtures Semiramide, followed by the evening’s highlight, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No2, which was premiered in 1830 and has been a firm concert favourite ever since. After the interval, the orchestra played Brahms’ masterful, light and airy second symphony, which some critics have likened in character to Beethoven’s Pastoral.

The first of this season's performances where different conductors are being tried out

LAST Saturday evening at Strode Theatre, Street, the Mid-Somerset Orchestra, (leader Hywel Jenkins) gave the first of its four concerts of the season.

Following the departure of their conductor of the past seven years, Stephen Smith, each concert will feature a guest conductor with a view to one being invited to take the helm for the long term. For this evening, the guest was Tim Pithers who is conductor of a number of ensembles in the South West including the symphony orchestra of Exeter University where he took his degree.

The first item on the programme was Rossini's most extended overture, that to his opera seria Semiramide. The long introduction, which featured the horns, led to the main presto. This was taken at a moderate pace allowing the strings to accommodate Rossini's bravura writing. The jauntily played second subject led to one of the composers characteristic crescendos which, although beginning somewhat too loudly, was well controlled and culminated in a powerful climax with the brass and percussion making their mark.

There followed Chopin's Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21 in which the soloist' was the young Welsh pianist Hannah Mitchell. A well played introduction prepared the way for the entry of the soloist. Initially there was some evidence of nerves and she took a little while to settle down after which she gave a creditable account of the work. The second movement, Lar-ghetto, was deftly executed albeit somewhat prosaic. There was a telling contrast in the agitated central passage. Of the three movements, the last came off best with neat finger-work and and rhythmic impetus. Conductor and orchestra gave sympathetic support throughout.

The second half of the programme comprised Brahms' warm hearted Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op.73. In the first movement there was some good string playing. In particular, for the second subject, the violas and cellos produced a rich, warm sound. The syncopated passages were played with appropriate heft. The Adagio non troppo was again characterised by some warm string playing. The lyrical 12/8 passage was executed with a lighter touch whilst the darker interruption was given appropriate weight. The tricky syncopation and accents in the third movement were well negotiated. The final movement was taken at a fairly steady tempo with an easing of pace for the second subject. The final build up was exciting with the trombones relishing their prominence in the closing bars.

One felt that, overall, the standard of ensemble was not up to that achieved in recent years. This may be attributable in part to unfamiliarity with the conductor. There were also some tuning problems. We look forward to the remainder of the season and seeing how the orchestra responds to the remaining guest conductors.

Brendan Sadler

This review was published in the Mid-Somerset Series of Newspapers on 30th November 2017

Concert Reviews 2016-2017

Merrie England

Merrie England
  • Holst “A Somerset Rhapsody”
  • Jacob “Old Wine in New Bottles”
  • Vaughan Williams “Divas & Lazarus”
  • Vaughan Williams “The Lark Ascending” (soloist Hywel Jenkins)
  • Loewe/Bennet “My Fair Lady”
  • German “Merrie England”
  • Sullivan March of the Peers from “Iolanthe”
  • Parry “Jerusalem”

The spirit of “Merrie England” is at the heart of this summer offering, opening with the inspiration of English folk song with a local flavour in Gustav Holst’s A Somerset Rhapsody, leading to 2 ethereal masterpieces by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus for strings and harp, and the much-loved and ever-popular The Lark Ascending for Solo Violin and Chamber Orchestra, inspired by the poem by George Meredith. The celebrated violin solo will be played by MSO leader Hywel Jenkins.

The second half of the concert will move away from the rarefied to the rather more cosmopolitan inspiration of the English stage, first as observed from the world of American Musical Comedy in Robert Russell Bennett’s Symphonic Picture of Frederic Loewe’s My Fair Lady, which was such a runaway success when the MSO last performed it in 2003, then capturing the “Merrie England” spirit literally in Four Dances from the operetta of the same name by Edward German.

The concert will end with a great favourite, The March of the Peers from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, before we all have the chance to join in Hubert Parry’s Jerusalem.

Stephen's final appearance was full of buoyancy and wit

For its final concert of the season, the Mid-Somerset Orchestra (leader Hywel Jenkins) presented a programme of mainly British music under its conductor, Stephen Smith.

Gustav Holst's A Somerset Rhapsody began the evening. The solo oboe, above a cushion of strings, set an air of mystery which was eventually dispelled by a jaunty rendition of the marching song High Germany, which may have originated from this locality. A strong climax gave way to a return of the opening material bringing the piece to an enigmatic close.

At this point, the wind and percussion players left the stage leaving the strings and harp to perform Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus by Ralph Vaughan Williams. There was some warm toned playing and a finely rendered passage from the leader and harpist. There were moments during the passage in ten parts which were not as tidy as one would wish. The solo cello brought the piece to a wistful conclusion.

The strings exchanged places with the woodwind, horns and trumpets for the latter to perform Gordon Jacob's suite Old Wine in New Bottles, an arrangement of four folk songs. They were played with wit and delicacy. Tuning was good and the balance between the players was excellent. The final movement was played with rhythmic buoyancy.

For the final item in the first half of the programme we were treated to a lovely performance of Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending in which the soloist was the orchestra's leader, Hywel Jenkins. He took a freer approach to the work than is usual, lending it an almost improvisatory feel. He played with great sensitivity and negotiated the florid writing with confidence. The orchestra provided appropriately discreet support. The final moments were quite magical and left the audience spellbound.

Returning after the interval the audience found the orchestra greatly enlarged by additional brass and percussion (including a celesta!). This was for a performance of My Fair Lady Symphonic Picture by RR Bennett, which uses numbers from the original Broad-way show by Lerner and Loewe. It is a virtuoso piece of orchestration and the MSO rose to the occasion with playing of great panache.

The conductor guided his players through an idiomatic interpretation - one might have been listening to one of the Hollywood studio orchestras!

There followed four dances from Edward German's operetta, Merrie England, which were stylishly played, and a rousing rendition of the March of the Peers from Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe.

The evening was rounded off by the audience joining in Parry's Jerusalem.

This was Stephen Smith's final appearance as the orchestra's conductor. Over the past seven years he has worked tirelessly to raise the standard of playing. He also has demonstrated his interpretive skills. He will be a hard act to follow.

Brendan Sadler

This review was published in the Mid-Somerset Series of Newspapers on 13th July 2017

True Romantics

Kinsky Trio Prague
  • Violin: Lucie Sedláková Hůlová
  • Cello: Martin Sedlák
  • Piano: Veronika Böhmová
  • Smetena: Tabor
  • Beethoven: Triple Concerto
  • Dvořák: Symphony No 8

A very rare opportunity to hear a Beethoven masterpiece combined with a welcome return of one of the MSO’s most esteemed soloists, on this occasion in the company of equally esteemed companions!

Martin Sedlák, who gave a magnificent performance of Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in November 2015, returns as cellist with violinist Lucie Sedláková Hůlová and pianist Veronika Böhmová as Kinsky Trio Prague, soloists with MSO in a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Triple Concerto of 1803.

In honour of their guests, the orchestra will complement the Concerto with two Czech masterworks. The concert will open with Tábor, the 5th of the cycle Má Vlast (My Homeland), the celebrated set of six symphonic poems composed between 1874 and 1879 by Bedřich Smetana. Named for the city of Tábor in the south of Bohemia founded by the Hussites and serving as their centre during the Hussite Wars, the piece is dominated by one of their hymns ‘Ye Who Are Warriors of God’. No celebration of music in Czech Republic can go without a major work by Dvořák and the 2nd half of the concert will be a performance of his beautiful, cheerful, optimistic and ever popular 8th Symphony of 1889.

KINSKY TRIO: PIANIST WAS PARTICULARLY NOTEWORTHY

A near capacity audience attended last Saturday evening’s concert given by the Mid-Somerset Orchestra (Leader Hywel Jenkins) at Strode Theatre, Street under the baton of their regular conductor, Stephen Smith. The three items on the programme were all from the nineteenth century Romantic era.

The first item was Tabor, one of the least known of the six symphonic poems that make up Smetana’s Ma Vlast, My Homeland. It depicts the 15th century struggle of the Hussites against Catholic oppression. After a hesitant opening the performance grew in power with some particularly sonorous brass and vigorous strings,

A relative rarity followed, namely, Beethoven’s concerto for violin, cello and piano in which the protagonists were members of the Kinsky Trio from Prague. The orchestra set the scene with a suitably broad introduction.

The three instrumentalists worked well together and their ensemble was well balanced in their many exchanges. There were some occasional lapses of intonation from the violin and cello but not such as to mar one’s enjoyment.

The opening of the slow movement was beautiful played by the strings of the orchestra followed by an alluring entry by the solo cello which created an atmosphere as if we were eavesdropping on an intimate conversation.

This led directly into the third movement. This has a polonaise-like rhythm which was given plenty of “bounce” by all concerned. There were witty exchanges between the members of the trio and between them and the orchestra. The pianist was particularly noteworthy.

The final work of the evening was Dvorak’s melody rich Symphony No.8 in G, Op 88. This was given a cracking performance. The beautifully moulded opening theme on the cello augured well for the rest of the performance and so it proved. Tempi were well judged and the attentive players responded to their conductor’s every change of tempo and subtle use of rubato. All sections of the orchestra were at the top of their game such that it is not possible, in the space available, to go into every detail.

Particularly memorable were the soaring violins in the reprise of the main theme of the slow movement and the joyous whoops of the horns in the last. Mention must also be made of Hywel Jenkins sensitive solo in the Adagio and the first flute, to which Dvorak allotted many solo passages and which were superbly executed by Carole Jenner-Timms.

Once again Stephen Smith has demonstrated his skill inspiring his players to give of their best. It was, therefore saddening to learn that this is his last season with the orchestra. He will be a hard act to follow.

Brendan Sadler


Unless otherwise stated, all reviews were written for publication in The Mid Somerset Series of Newspapers