Concert Reviews

Concert Reviews 2017-2018

Chopin 2nd Piano Concerto

Hannah Mitchell

  • Piano: Hannah Mitchell
  • Guest Conductor: Tim Pithers

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

Christmas Carols 2017

Sing for Somerset Carol Service in association with Somerset Life

Wells Cathedral

Conductor: Laurence Blyth Leader: Hywel Jenkins

Saturday 16th December 2017 7:00PM Wells Cathedral

Lessons and carols, led by Somerset Voices (member and friends of Taunton and Wellington Choral Societies)

Stunning Sing for Somerset is a Soaring Success!

Dec 18, 2017

As the peal of the mighty bells rang out from the south-west tower, over 500 people filled the magnificent Wells Cathedral on Saturday night for our annual Sing for Somerset carol service.

We would like to thank Reverend Prebendary Paula Hollingsworth, Sub Dean for her involvement this year and for stepping in at the last minute. Our gratitude goes to our conductor Laurence Blyth for his leadership and creativity and our thanks as always to the Mid-Somerset Orchestra and the Somerset Voices Choir, who gave their time completely freely for this event and whose dramatic and powerful harmonies had some of the congregation in tears!

The Virgers and staff at the Cathedral also deserve a huge thank you for their support and assistance during the service along with the ushers who volunteered their time to make sure that everyone found a seat ahead of the service.

Our gratitude, of course, goes to our six readers, who delivered their part of the nativity story from the Cathedral’s pulpit faultlessly.

The generosity during the retiring collection, particularly at such an expensive time of year for many people, was greatly appreciated and will help to enable us to continue to support groups across Somerset during the coming years.

Finally, a date for your new 2018 diary! Sing for Somerset 2018 will be held on Saturday 15 December at Wells Cathedral – we hope to see you there again!

Review from Somerset Community Foundation

Mozart Horn Concerto No 3

  • Soloist: Jonathan Benger
  • Guest Conductor: Richard Jones
  • Leader: Hywel Jenkins

MSO’s 2017/18 winter concert is a truly classical programme featuring music by Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn.

Our guest conductor is Richard Jones who gained his MA from the University of York, specialising in youth music. Always a keen advocate for youth and community music, Richard currently works as the Music and Arts Strategy Manager for South Gloucestershire. He is involved with orchestras and ensembles around the South West.

MSO’s Principal Horn, Jonathan Benger, who has been with the orchestra since 2012, is tonight’s soloist. Jonathan also plays in Frome Symphony Orchestra and gives regular recitals as a solo player and in chamber ensembles.

The concert began with Beethoven’s Overture “Coriolan”, composed in 1807 for Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s play. The overture remains a firm concert favourite, but the play languishes in obscurity.

Mozart’s Horn Concerto No 3 was written in the 1780’s for his life-long friend Joseph Leutgeb.

Mozart’s Comic Opera “Cosi Fan Tutte”, premiered in Vienna in 1790 opens the second half. It includes 2 appearances of a very significant musical reference to the ensuing opera.

Haydn’s Symphony No 99 is one of his 12 London Symphonies, written in Vienna during 1793 when he was anticipating a second trip to London.

Orchestra draws well-earned applause from the audience

Last Saturday the Mid-Somerset Orchestra (leader Hywel Jenkins) gave its Winter Concert at Strode Theatre, Street. They were conducted by Richard Jones, the second of this season’s guest conductors from which the orchestra hopes to select a successor to Stephen Smith who stood down last year.

The concert opened with a performance of one of Beethoven’s finest overtures, Coriolan. An impressively-played introduction heralded a dramatic account of the piece. The allegro was taken at a steady tempo and one felt that the development could have been more taut. The closing pages were suitably tragic and it was good to hear  the  final  pizzicato chords played with unanimity – not always the case, even with professional orchestras.

There followed the Horn Concerto No 3 in E flat, K 447 by Mozart in which the soloist was Jonathan Benger, the orchestra’s principal horn . He gave a confident rendition of the piece with a nicely judged account of the Romanze. The finale bounced along winningly. The orchestra gave sympathetic support throughout. The audience responded to the performance with well-earned enthusiastic applause.

Mozart’s overture to Casi Fan Tutti ended the first half of the programme. It was played with good dynamic contrast and the woodwind mainly coped well with the tricky florid writing.

Haydn’s Symphony No 99 in E flat rounded off the evening. There was a dramatic account of the introduction to the first movement leading into the Vivace assai which was delivered with buoyant rhythms. The second subject provided suitable contrast. The extensive Adagio was given due weight and solemnity and was well paced.

The minuet and trio had echoes of its roots in the Austrian Landler, by turns bucolic and lyrical with some sensitive wind playing. The finale went with a swing giving rein to Haydn’s engaging wit. In particular the wind relished their humorous  exchanges.  Overall, this was an enjoyabl e account of the work.

Throughout the evening, the orchestra responded well to the conductor’s unfussy direction. One awaits with interest the appearance of the two remaining guest conductors.


Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4

Hilary Suckling

Hitoshi Suzuki

Nicolai                 Overture The Merry Wives of Windsor

Beethoven               Piano Concerto no 4
  (soloist Hilary Suckling)

Shostakovich            Festive Overture

Ravel                   Le Tombeau de Couperin

Tchaikovsky             Overture-Fantasy  Romeo and Juliet
The third of MSO’s guest conductors is the highly accomplished Hitoshi Suzuki

who has studied all over the world including the University of the Arts Tokyo, Royal Northern College of Music, Royal College of Music and is currently at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles. A prizewinner in many orchestral conducting competitions, Hitoshi will certainly bring a unique international perspective to the evening.

Our soloist, Hilary Suckling, graduated from the Royal Academy of Music and the University of Cambridge.  A previous favourite with MSO (Schumann Piano Concerto 2013), Hilary returns to perform Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto.  She has worked as an Accompanist at Chetham’s School of Music, for BBC Young Musician and Yehudi Menuhin soloists, and has given recitals at the Wigmore Hall,  St James’ Piccadilly and BBC Radio 3.

The programme opens with the overture to “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by Nicolai before the evening’s main highlight of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4

The Festive Overture by Shostakovitch provides a good work out for the brass section and is contrasted by “The Tombeau de Couperin”, a piece written by Ravel as homage to the Baroque French keyboard style.

The concert concludes with Tchaikovsky’s ever popular  Overture Fantasy “Romeo and Juliet”

Review of Mid-Somerset Orchestra’s spring concert at Strode Theatre

The Mid-Somerset Orchestra (Leader Hywel Jenkins) last Saturday presented its spring con-cert at Strode Theatre, Street. They were directed on this occasion by the third of the four guest conductors from whom they hope to select their next incumbent. Hitoshi Suzuki is still a student at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles and he made a good impression in a programme of diverse styles.

The first item on the programme was Nicolai’s popular overture to his comic opera, The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The introduction was suitably atmospheric, conjuring up Windsor Forest at midnight. The following Allegro was taken at a well-judged pace and the development nicely captured the rumbustious activities of the opera’s third act.

The soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 in G was Hilary Suckling, making her second appearance with the orchestra. She gave a most convincing rendition of the piece. Her passage work was crisp and accurate and there was much sensitivity in the more lyrical moments of the score.

In the first movement she elected for the more expansive and virtuosic of the two cadenzas which Beethoven provided. This she dispatched with great panache.

In the second movement the contrast between the dark string utterances and the piano’s reflective responses were most effective.

The lively finale was given plenty of rhythmic impetus and rounded off a satisfying performance of the whole.

Shostakovich’s Festive Overture opened the second half of the programme. The brass relished the opening fanfare which led to an allegro into which every section threw their all, as befits a piece of occasional music, in this instance the celebration of the Russian revolution.

Ravel’s Suite “Le Tombeau de Couperin” is a demanding piece and it stretched the orchestra’s capabilities to its limits. After an untidy start, things settled down and there were some nice touches in the gentler middle movements.

The highlight of the evening for your reviewer was an impassioned performance of Tchaikovsky’s much-loved Fantasy Overture “Romeo and Juliet”. The atmosphere of the lugubrious introduction was well captured and the allegro packed a real punch.

The great love theme was beautifully shaped. The development was taut with accurate crashing chords and searing trumpets at the climax. The strings covered themselves with glory in the final statement of the love theme and the closing pages were particularly heart rending.

Despite his youth, Hitoshi Suzuki is clearly a talent to be watched. The orchestra made their feelings plain with enthusiastic applause. He must be strong contender for the vacant post.

Brendan Sadler

European Tour

  • Conductor: Dr Dennis Simons, F.R.A.M.
  • Leader: Hywel Jenkins
  • Berlioz: The Roman Carnival
  • MacCunn: The Land of the Mountain and the Flood
  • Sibelius: Finlandia
  • von Reznicek: Donna Diana
  • Berlioz: The Corsair
  • Massenet: El Cid Ballet Music
  • Tchaikovsky: Marche Slave
  • Parry orch. Elgar: Jerusalem
The fourth of MSO’s guest conductors, the highly accomplished Dr. Dennis Simons, has been founder leader of the Alberni String Quartet, Co-Leader of the London Philharmonic and Leader of the BBC Philharmonic returning to the U.K. after twenty years as Music Director and Conductor of three orchestras in North America. He has a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education from the University of North Dakota.

Concert season ends with European Tour

For their final concert of the season at Strode Theatre, Street, the Mid-Somerset Orchestra (Leader Hywel Jenkins) presented a programme of mostly short items under the title “European Tour: The conductor was Dennis Simons, a founder member of the Alberni String Quartet and one time leader of the BBC Philharmonic. He was the last of the four conductors this season from whom the orchestra hopes to select their next permanent Music Director.

The concert began with the overture “Roman Carnival” by Hector Berlioz. A confident opening flourish gave way to the introduction proper which featured Angharad Owen on the Cor Anglais. The tempo of the allegro was well judged as was the build of the final crescendo culminating in a blaze of brass. A promising start to the evening.

Less of a show-piece was the overture “The Land of Mountain and the Flood” by the late nineteenth century Scottish composer, Hamish MacCunn. It captures the sweep and changing moods of landscape north of the border which were well conveyed in a satisfying performance.

There followed one of Jean Sibelius’ best known works, the Tone Poem “Finlandia”. This received a powerful performance. From the impressive opening statement by the brass and timpani through a well balanced statement of the hymn like central section to the final peroration, this was a thrilling account of this popular work.

The final work of the first half was the Berlioz inflected overture “Donna Diana” by Reznicek.

This came as something of an anti-climax after the fervour of the Sibelius. Whilst decently enough played at a steady tempo, it came across as some-what staid.

More Berlioz followed the interval in the form of his overture “Le Corsair”. This is one of the composer’s most demanding overtures and the orchestra acquitted themselves well delivering a rumbustious account of the score.

A performance of Jules Massenet’s ballet music from his opera “Le Cid” followed. This was imbued with the spirit of the dance. The tempi through-out the seven movements were well judged and played with appropriate rhythmic vitality. There were idiomatic contributions from the various sections of the orchestra, in particular the flutes.

Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slav was the penultimate piece in the programme and was well played. The measured temp was apt and the final climax, including the Tzarist National Anthem, made a good impression.

The evening concluded with the annual rendition of Parry’s Jerusalem in which the audience participated with gusto.

Throughout the evening the orchestra responded well to Dennis Simon’s unfussy direction.

Choosing a new Music Director will not be an easy task and one awaits with interest the outcome of the orchestra’s ballot.

Brendan Sadler

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.


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

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