Concert Reviews

Concert Reviews 2021-2022

  • Beethoven: Overture “Prometheus”
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor
  • Haydn: Symphony No 101 in D Major “The Clock”
  • Soloist: Sam Haywood (piano)
  • Guest Conductor: Robert Weaver
  • Leader: Hywel Jenkins
Following enforced pandemic silence, the Mid-Somerset Orchestra returns to present a belated celebration of 250 years since the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven.
The MSO welcomes Robert Weaver as guest conductor for this concert. Robert comes to the orchestra with considerable professional experience as both conductor and violinist. The concert will open with Beethoven’s celebrated overture to his ballet The Creations of Prometheus (1801).
The orchestra also welcomes Nicola Meecham as soloist in Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto. Internationally acclaimed for both performances and recordings, Nicola has performed a wide-ranging repertoire in all the major concert halls and at prestigious festivals. The concerto was first performed in 1803 with the composer as soloist.
Joseph Haydn was one of Beethoven’s teachers. His Clock Symphony was first performed in 1794 to great popular acclaim during the second of his two visits to London. The symphony earns its name for the “tick tock” motive which opens the second movement.
No review was written for this concert


  • Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks
  • Haydn: Trumpet Concerto
  • Mozart: Symphony no 38 ‘Prague’
  • Conductor, Hitoshi Suzuki
  • Soloist, Eliza Talman (flute)
Sample Description

As winter started towards lighter evenings, the Mid-Somerset Orchestra transported its audience to the eighteenth century with a wonderful programme of really enjoyable music and the unique sharing of live performances with others which we have missed over long months.

The Royal Fireworks Suite of 1749 is an expressive five-movement celebration of peace after a period of war which had affected all of Europe, metaphorically fitting for present times. The rich melodies are easily enjoyed. The ringing and stately introduction of the Overture was nicely delivered, with its dotted rhythms and fanfares sounding brightly from the trumpets and woodwind sections, soon joined by fast-paced exchanges between brass and strings. The oboes were particularly elegant in the bourrée, and the two slower movements reflecting the “peace” were gracefully performed by the strings, the cellists deserving of special mention. Returning to the triumphant minuet to end the work, the brass and timpani carried an engaged audience along under the nimble baton of Principal Conductor Hitoshi Suzuki.

Handel’s festive piece warmed the audience for a real treat: Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat, with the talented young soloist, Eliza Talman, who won the concerto competition at Wells Cathedral School. She should have performed this concerto just as lockdown arrived in March 2020, but the Strode Theatre audience benefited from the unfortunate delay. Designed to exploit the capabilities of an improved trumpet by Haydn’s friend Anton Weidinger, the work is pacy, full of merriment, and Talman captured all the wit and energy Haydn gave it. In playful exchanges with the brass and wind sections in the opening fast movement, and sweeter lyricism with the strings in the slow movement, she demonstrated her dexterity in navigating octave leaps, arpeggios and grace notes with apparent ease. She achieved a lovely round tone and moments of simple melodic beauty, rounding off with her own cadenza. The vigorous final movement showcased her proficiency as she flew through complex ornamentations in perfect partnership with the orchestra.

The conductor introduced the final piece, Mozart’s wonderful Symphony 38, the Prague, suggesting some of Mozart’s best operatic characters from Don Giovanni, Figaro and The Magic Flute could be glimpsed and right on the stage. Then, some of his own magic took over. The horns were perfect; the violins shimmered; the lower strings skipped along in syncopation in the dark mood of the first movement. The whole orchestra – woodwind, horns and brass, all the strings, and the timpani, moved in harmony. There was restless energy, followed by lilting beauty; from full orchestra, to just strings. THE MSO excelled itself and almost brought the audience to its feet. I’m off to buy a copy of the Prague, to tide me over until their next concert in May.

Review by Deborah Losey

Concert Reviews 2019-2020

Unfinished Emporers

  • Mendelssohn – Overture ‘The Fair Melusine’
  • Schubert – Symphony No. 8 ‘The Unfinished’
  • Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 5, ‘The Emperor’

Soloist: Sam Haywood.
Conductor: Hitoshi Suzuki

To start the 2019-2020 season of “nicknames”, two titanic repertoire masterpieces receive equal billing in The Mid-Somerset Orchestra’s autumn programme. Despite Schubert’s delightful Symphony in B minor holding the epithet Unfinished, relating to endless conjecture about there being no completed scherzo and finale to make up the four-movement standard, the existing opening and slow movements on their own are generally recognised as being among the most complete lyrical utterances ever created in music. The second half of the concert will be a performance of Beethoven’s monumental 5th Piano Concerto, known as the Emperor, first performed by its dedicatee, Archduke Rudolf in 1811 in Vienna. The orchestra is delighted to invite internationally acclaimed concert pianist Sam Haywood as the soloist in the Emperor Concerto for a most welcome return hot on the heels of his performance of Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto with the orchestra earlier this year. It was said of that performance that Sam and the orchestra “worked some alchemy” to make of Brahms’ huge concerto “almost a chamber work”. One can only be left guessing as to how they will now approach Beethoven’s mighty Emperor!…
TO conclude a year of excellence from their Strode Theatre base, the MSO’s autumn concert offered a trio of early nineteenth century works which took their audience on a voyage from the watery heart of Mendelssohn’s fairy tale ‘Melusine’, through the darkly emotive landscape of Schubert’s intriguing ‘Unfinished’ Symphony, and ultimately into the dazzling light of Beethoven’s masterful _Emperor’ Piano Concerto. The journey had a Dantean effect, from dark woods and a quest for Self to an emergence, at last, under the stars. the direction of conductor Hitoshi Suzuki – and reappearance of soloist Sam Haywood for Beethoven lifted the amateur orchestra to perform with considerable artistry. The programme began with a relatively unfamiliar piece, Mendelssohns Overture The Fair Melusine opus 32, (1833), in which the composer wished to evoke the mysterious tale of a beautiful girl cursed to assume the form of a mermaid on one day of each week. Her love for, and marriage to, Knight Raimund depends on his never seeing her on this day; but as with many tales of impossible curiosity which undermines trust, he spies on her in her hath, and condemns her to return to a watery underworld. The burbling water of Melusine’s own element opened with a vibrant scoring for the strings, played very competently, to give us her gentle rolling seascape. This was joined by the excellent wind section, where clarinettists Alison Rees and Elizabeth Bailey, in particular, suffused a grace and charm over Melusine’s sweet signature melody. Hopeful F Major shifted to the darker F Minor in the second section, permitting a glimpse of the curious Raimund watching Melusine. The move from rolling water to turbulent storms was achieved very nicely, giving patrons a complex “warm-up” piece to start the evening. For Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, (1822), conductor Hitoshi Suzuki took the microphone to address his audience. There was something fresh and unexpected about this move. He expressed feelings that the work was thematically difficult, having no traditional shape of journey and return. However, his commitment to take the symphony on its existing terms bore fruit. The first movement, an allegro moderato, was introduced through the rather unsettling, almost spectral, playing of the cellos and basses. Cello principals Stuart Clark and Julia Wood were at the top of their game, engaging the audience from the first and treating us to a shimmer in the strings supporting the winds with their melancholy theme. Oboes and clarinets were sonorous; but one feels the cellos and basses are Schubert’s voice in this work, and the playing couldn’t be faulted. From fragile strings, through horns and bassoons: from serenity to doubt, posing questions of self-confidence, pain, and a moment again of hope. Suzuki drew from the MSO something haunting and beautiful. The second movement andante reverses the allegro, with the horns and bassoons playing a clear, hopeful theme, in counterpoint to the cellos. The conductor stayed close to the tempo of the first movement to lend unity and security to the audience. Not for long – as the violins teased the music into completely different harmonic places. Here, any uncertainty from the lesser-known Mendelssohn piece was banished as the whole orchestra stepped up with crisp playing, strong emotion and a powerful evocation of the highly illusive symphony. An enthralled, post-interval audience was ready for the confidence, the nobility and the sheer thrill of Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto (1809). This, the first piano concerto that the composer’s advancing deafness prevented him from playing himself, is a demanding work which requires energy as well as focus and technical brilliance from the soloist. With memories of his outstanding accounting of Brahms’ 2nd earlier in the year still in our minds, Sam Haywood treated patrons to a bravura performance of this astonishing work. Hitoshi Suzuki retreated modestly behind the piano, insisting we watch Haywood, but his own contribution was considerable. His vigour on the podium communicated his joyousness, always coupled with great control. As for Haywood, his performance was an orchestration itself of pleasure, fervour, passion and delicacy – even understatement. Without being flashy, his piano and pianissimo passages were exquisitely rendered. In the first allegro movement – so full of piano flourishes – he lifted the audience to a state of pure delight. The tenderness of the unparalleled adagio was delivered with intensity and feeling. Balancing naturalness and clarity with an often dreamy tone, Haywood maintained the forward movement of the piece without ever rushing. He avoided excess and achieved elegance, with the inherent beauty of the piece. He was ably supported by the strings and woodwind sections, which seemed to reach new levels of perfection accompanying the soloist. The final movement allegro is such a showpiece of virtuosity, of colour and splendour, and Haywood carried a packed house along with his vision for several minutes of unrestrained wonder and joy. His rubato playing in the softer sections was a revelation. Once again, Hitoshi Suzuki worked a magic spell with Haywood to give the impression that this most imperial of concertos was a chamber work, perfectly suited to the intimate setting of the Strode Theatre. What one can hardly wait to discover, might they have in store for us in the warmer months of 2020? Deborah Losey

Haydn’s Farewell

Emma Halnan (photo Ian Dingle)

Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusic

Mozart: Flute Concerto in G Major Soloist: Emma Halnan

Respighi: Antiche Danze et Arie per Liute – Suite No 3

Haydn: Symphony no 45 (Farewell)

Mozart’s ever popular Eine Kleine Nachtmusik will open this programme leading to the evening’s highlight, a performance of the same composer’s delightful Flute Concerto in G major with soloist Emma Halnan.

The concert will end with a work renowned as a good example of successful industrial relations. In 1772 when Haydn’s players were restless about time spent away from their families at a summer palace some distance from home, Haydn composed this symphony to convey their disquiet to their aristocratic employer, in a most interesting manner…!

The woodwind category winner of BBC Young Musician in 2010, Emma Halnan has also appeared as concerto soloist and in 2016 she recorded and broadcast on Classic FM a piece specially composed for her by eminent composer Sir Karl Jenkins.

Joining orchestras around the world who perform “Mostly Mozart” concerts in the composer’s birthday month, the Mid-Somerset Orchestra gave us two of his much-loved works for the first half of their programme at the Strode Theatre on Saturday night.

For some, perhaps, the signature serenade ‘Eine Kleine Nacht Musik’ (1787) is almost a cliché of melodic loveliness. It is, as Hywel Jenkins remarks in the programme notes, a piece audiences have almost ‘breathed in through the air’. But if the music itself has few surprises, the challenge is to tackle that paradox of Mozart’s music – that he is both extremely easy and extremely difficult. Gabriel Faure and Claudio Arrau, Mitsuko Uchida and Alfred Brendel, have all declared Mozart the greatest challenge: ‘to control the transparent texture of his writing’, the latter said, ‘demands a greater degree of mastery than can ever be attained’.

Such a challenge was met with determination. In essentially a chamber ensemble with no hiding places, it was occasionally apparent that a stringed instrument or two had not quite the tone of their fellows: that once or twice the timing of an entrance wasn’t precise; that this test for every single one of Mozart’s notes to be sounded and heard perfectly was a mighty task for an amateur orchestra. And yet, the effect was completely delightful! The opening allegro was sweet and uplifting, the romanza emotionally persuasive with just a hint of pathos lovingly elicited by conductor Hitoshi Suzuki, the minuet/landler beautifully paced, and the final rondo a spring-like defiance of January weather. As always, the cellos were uniformly excellent and it was evident that there are some outstanding players among the violins.

The real Mozartian treat, however, came with the Flute Concerto in G (1778), a piece that defies the composer’s professed distaste for the flute as an instrument. More than a simply sugary, summer-day melody, the allegro opens with a vigorous rhythm brilliantly rendered by soloist Emma Halnan. How was it possible for her to be both impish and noble, both joyous and refined? And yet her performance contained all of these aspects. The allegro’s demand for excellent breath control – particularly in the leaps from lower to higher register – was delivered effortlessly. Halnan’s beautiful slow movement had grace and a warm tone. The rondo – like the allegro – was playful, but never swaggering. Halnan’s control from start to finish was notable, while the interplay between the flute and very prominent horns – as well as the surprisingly complex second violins – was a feature of the piece.

A glass of something brought us to a change of tempo in the second half of the programme, where conductor Hitoshi Suzuki gave us his rationale for the choice of Respighi: he shared with us a composer-friend’s advice that only a fool would tamper with Mozart or Haydn, because they will always triumph over your attempt. But it was nice to perform a piece based on older Italian, French and English works written for the lute and harpsichord but revisited through modern eyes, in the case of the Ancient Airs and Dances (1930).

‘Suite 3’, composed for strings, opens with ‘Italiana’, where the graceful main theme layered over a gossamer veil of pizzicato to give translucence to the music was very nicely captured by the MSO. Though the pizzicato keeps the piece moving forwards, the air itself seems forever and hauntingly looking back, evoking a sense of nostalgia for the past. This feeling is confirmed in the second “movement”, ‘Arie di Corte’, themselves a mini-suite of elegant dances appearing first in a minor key where the lower voiced violas and cellos really sing to us. This too was very beautifully performed by the orchestra, the phrasing superb. The succession of melodies, in contrasting time signatures, offered wonderful emotional contrasts highlighting the subtle variety of colours in the strings. Suzuki never rushed, prolonging the mood of wistfulness until the arrival of the poised third “movement”, ‘Siciliana’. Momentarily formal and sweet, it too subsides into the final movement, ‘Passacaglia’, returning us to a sense of loss for what has been, what can never be again. The range of feeling achieved by the orchestra in the Respighi was truly commendable.

The best was last, as the MSO bade us goodnight in a superbly musical way. Haydn’s Symphony No 45, The Farewell, (1772), was the composer’s humorous way of extracting his over-worked musicians from prolonged duties at the Esterhazy Court when their leave was long overdue. The orchestra clearly delighted in the heavenly music coupled with brilliant theatre. The opening allegro assai hinted that surprise might be looming: the main theme introduced by the first violin, underscored in a syncopated rhythm to create a dramatic effect was delivered by energetic strings and the plaintive woodwinds in their full stride. The delicate adagio showcased the lovely playing of the wind section, counterpointed against the cellos; and the third movement, minuet and trio, gave us a wonderful variety of colours especially from the wind players, some of Haydn’s best music. This brought an expectant audience to the charm of the final movement. Starting presto, we enjoyed some impressive horn passages and the exultant bouncing of the violins. Nothing seemed amiss, until we came to the unexpected adagio: and now, as in 1772, one by one small sections of the orchestra clutched their instruments and left the stage. Extravagant hand gestures accompanied the conductor’s departure, until only the Violin Principals Hywel Jenkins and Joyce Rudall remained.

Sheer joy! One cellist told me it was like ‘being on my happiest holiday’ on the stage. But one hopes they will all return for Verdi, Borodin and Tchaikovsky in early May.

Deborah Losey

Concert Reviews 2018-2019

Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony

  • Soloist: Sara Trickey
  • Conductor: Hitoshi Suzuki
  • Rossini “The Italian Girl in Algiers
  • Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
  • Beethoven Symphony No 7
The MSO is delighted to present Hitoshi Suzuki’s inaugural concert with the orchestra as their new Principal Conductor! Congratulations to Hitoshi who has freshly graduated from Brussels Conservatoire with a Master’s Degree in Orchestra Conducting and what better place to start a long and successful relationship than with the headlong irrepressible rhythmic energy of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony! Premiered in 1813, the “Seventh” has always earned its permanent place in the repertory, with its 2nd movement particularly enjoying popular status, most recently as the soundtrack to the film The King’s Speech.
LAST Saturday, at Strode Theatre, Street, the Mid-Somerset Orchestra (Leader Hywel Jenkins) gave their autumn concert. They were performing under their newly-appointed Principal Conductor, Hitoshi Suzuki, who was selected from the four candidates “auditioned” last season.

The concert began with one of Rossini’s most popular overtures “The Italian Girl in Algiers”. It was given a buoyant account with some notable contributions · from the woodwind. The composer’s trademark crescendos were well controlled but would have benefited from commencing at a lower dynamic level.

Mendelssohn’s much loved Violin Concerto in E minor concluded the first half of the

programme. The soloist was Sara Trickey who gave a worthy interpretation of the work. She made a confident start to the first movement-with a well judged tempi which she eased for the second subject. She gave a creditable account of the trucing cadenza.

The transition to the Andante was well managed. The movement itself was played-with appropriate warmth and lyricism with a nice balance between soloist and orchestra. The finale was played with great spirit with the players relishing the composer ‘s deft writing. The soloist was aptly rewarded by enthusiastic applause.

Beethoven’s ebullient Symphony No.7 in A major rounded off the programme. This was an exciting performance. The long introduction was well shaped and generated suitable tension. The ensuing Vivace epitomised Wagner’s dubbing the symphony as “The apotheosis of the Dance”. The dramatic contrasts in the movement were well brought out and the closing bars packed a punch. The tempo of the Allegretto which, in these days of so called “authentic” performance is frequently taken at a perfunctory pace, was appropriate, enhancing the lyrical character of the movement. There was some sensitive phrasing from violas and cellos and later in the movement from the woodwind.

The Scherzo bounded along light­ footedly contrasting well with the more sober Trio section” in which the horns gave of their all. The whir-wind of the final Allegro con brio was dispatched with suitable panache bringing the work to a rousing conclusion. Mention must be _ made of the Timpanist, Shaun Rigby, whose contribution throughout was exemplary.

Hitoshi Suzuki’s conducting was dear and unfussy yet drew a good response from his players. We can look forward to further exciting concerts in the future.

Brendan Sadler

Sam Haywood plays Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto

  • Soloist:  Sam Haywood
  • Conductor:  Hitoshi Suzuki
  • Brahms Piano Concerto No 2
  • Sibelius  Symphony no 2
The MSO is thrilled to welcome internationally renowned virtuoso concert pianist Sam Haywood as soloist in Brahms’ monumental 2nd Piano Concerto (1881), as much a major symphonic work as it is a virtuoso display for the soloist.

Sam Haywood has performed to critical acclaim in many of the world’s major concert halls. A finalist in the BBC Young Musician 1986, the Washington Post has hailed his ‘dazzling, evocative playing’ and ‘lyrical sensitivity’ and the New York Times his ‘passionate flair and sparkling clarity’. A regular duo partner with both violinist Joshua Bell, with whom he has recently toured in the US, and cellist Steven Isserlis, Sam is equally at home as a soloist or chamber musician as on the concerto platform.

The genesis of the 2nd symphony of Sibelius can be traced to Sibelius’ trip to Italy in early 1901. The 2nd symphony has retained an extraordinary popularity for its individualistic tonal language, dark wind colouring, muted string writing , simple folklike themes and distinctly “national” flavour that are all Sibelian to the core.

Orchestra manages to deliver gargantuan works in considerable style

For their Spring concert the Mid Somerset Orchestra chose two gargantuan works and delivered them with considerable style.

The Brahms 2nd piano concerto (1881) is a work of length and complexity, an expansive four-movement journey through themes of great tenderness but also dramatic intensity and energy.

From the opening passages, former BBC Young Musician finalist Sam Haywood treated the audience to the rich sonorities, the playful contrasts between light and shade, humour and feeling, which Brahms demands.

A concerto well-known for its dependency on nimble fingers and hands with considerable stretch, Haywood balanced the technical control with great warmth of tone and lyrical expressiveness. Of particular beauty was the handling of the exquisite instrumental dialogues – the horn with the piano in the, opening movement, the cello with the piano in the andante.

Haywood’s dark-light playing was on point. The initial zeal of the scherzo movement mellowed into pathos, chased away by agitation; in the latter section, all tensions then resolved into the sheer beauty of the piano-cello passages.

Alongside Hayward’s own infectious enjoyment of the piece, the dialogue between soloist and the orchestra characterised the performance.

Hitoshi Suzuki worked some alchemy with Haywood to make of this huge concerto almost a chamber work, where the intimacy of the Strode Theatre worked particularly well. Special mention must be made of the lovely lyrical playing of the first cello, Stuart Clark.

The second half of the programme climbed another mountain. Sibelius’ Symphony No 2, more lyrical in Many ways than much of his later work, seemed enormously ambitious for a smaller amateur orchestra.

Yet from the opening three-note motif that gradually builds into a complex theme across the symphony, culminating in that stupendous finale that is often considered an expression of Finland’s plea for national freedom, the audience fell under its spell.

Perhaps conductor Hitoshi has a particular and personal engagement with the Sibelius No 2: he certainly drew power, beauty and precision from his orchestra.

From the initial feeling of hopeful pastoral in the first movement, through the darkly sombre wind instruments hinting at struggle in the second, the restlessness of the third movement scherzo, and the passionate triumph of the finale, the MSO brought the entire landscape of Finland into the Strode.

As with the Brahms, the excellence of the wind instruments – especially the bassoons and horns – and the forward-moving pizzicato of the strings guided by first violinist Hywel Jenkins, brought home a rich and moving musical experience.

Deborah Losey

Assorted Suites for Summer

  • Conductor:  Hitoshi Suzuki
  • Leader:  Hywel Jenkins
  • Suppe: Overture Light Cavalry
  • Gounod: Petite Symphonie
  • Bizet: Carmen Suite No 1
  • Holst: St Paul’s Suite
  • Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite No 1
  • Rodgers arr Bennett: Oklahoma! Selection for Orchestra
  • Parry arr Elgar: Jerusalem
A suite arranged for orchestra showcases the best of an original, hopefully leaving the audience wishing for more!

No time for this here, however, as the MSO’s summer treat for 2019 is a whirlwind “pick’n’mix” with Suppé’s popular Light Cavalry Overture there at the top as you open the packet of goodies! There follows the Spanish bravado, gypsy lilts, tragic drama and, above all, immortal melodies of Bizet’s opera Carmen all captured in 6 short movements, in its turn followed by Grieg’s equally immortal incidental music for Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, whose eponymous hero (and the composer’s fictional compatriot) travels around the world ending up in The Hall of the Mountain King in their mutual native Norway. This then leads to all the best numbers from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Musical Oklahoma!, including Beautiful Morning, Farmer and the Cowboy and of course Oklahoma! theme, all skilfully woven together by Robert Russell Bennett, to close proceedings. Well, not quite. The orchestra, in customary style, will invite the audience at the end to join in with Jerusalem!

Spotlights on the way are on the orchestra’s wind and string sections respectively playing Gounod’s joyous Petite Symphonie and Holst’s ever popular English folk-inspired St. Paul’s Suite.

An assortment of tastes performed

The Mid-Somerset Orchestra’s summer offering this year was certainly a variety pack, containing an assortment of tastes.

Trumpets and horns introduced the concert with boldness at the beginning of Suppé’s ‘Light Cavalry’ Overture. This piece uses the whole orchestra to encompass extremes, from the excitement of galloping horses to romance expressed by the strings. A good choice for beginning the evening’s entertainment.

The first five of the programme’s presentations were all produced within 20 years, towards the end of the 19th century. Their diversity ranged from Gounod’s ‘Petite Symphonie,’ a nine-player wind piece led by Simon Naylor with its focus on the solo flute, admirably played by Carole Jenner-Timms, to Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt Suite No. l’ with its well-loved mood-music.

The 67-piece orchestra made the most of the last section, building up the tension in ‘”lhe Hall of the Mountain King: Bizet’s ‘Carmen began with a taught first theme. The harp and flute developed the emotional element in the second movement; the first oboe made the third movement dance from the start.

The last three pieces in the concert were written in the first half of the 20th century. The orchestra’s string section clearly enjoyed playing the ‘St Paul’s Suite’ by Holst. Hywel Jenkins’  intermezzo solo was played beautifully.

The ‘Symphonic Picture’ from ‘Oklahoma’ put the orchestra’s extra forces to good use, particularly the brass section. In places it was very loud; the audience loved it.

At the end of the concert the audience joined the orchestra, as usual, singing to Parry’s arrangement of ‘Jerusalem’.

Hitoshi Suzuki has established his position, having now been the orchestra’s principal conductor for a year. His involvement in the music shows in his fluidity of movement on the podium when aspiring to bring out his vision from the various sections of the orchestra. He addressed the audience at the start of the concert, with an overview of the music, and also introduced the individuals playing the ‘Petite Symphonie.’

More such short, informative and explanatory detail would be appreciated in concerts like this, where many people will not have had a chance to take full advantage of Hywel Jenkins’ detailed programme notes beforehand, and where a few words make the music more immediately accessible, especially to younger audience members.

Overall, this was mostly an ‘easy-listening’ programme choice, in line with the usual Summer Prom menu.

However, the theatre was less than half full was this because of the lure of Wimbledon, summer barbecues or perhaps the effects of musical over-indulgence at Pilton?

It may be that some who did not come had hoped that more of the usual fare would be on offer. Even some of the audience were left looking in the bottom of the bag for just one or two of their favourites, such as the ‘Sea Songs’ and ‘Rule, Britannia; along with their Union Flags and party poppers.

Joan Dixon

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

Hits: 3752