The opera Schwanda the Bagpiper is no longer a repertory opera but in its first decade it clocked up 2000 performances.  The Polka however is still frequently played, in fact it got as far as my school orchestra in North London. Fortunately, the composer Jaromir Weinberger was not present to hear our rendition.  The Axe Vale Orchestra in the Minster, Axminster, attacked the music with verve and panache and sailed through the swirling string writing.

It wasn’t made clear why the next two pieces were played in reverse order but it must have kept some of the audience on its toes.  We heard next the music which Léo Delibes wrote for his ballet Coppélia. Based on a typically weird story by ETA Hoffman it features a doll which is “brought to life”.  Delibes spins a web of glorious dance tunes and the AVO brought out the contrasts between them as well as the superb orchestration.  The AVO seem to be getting better every time I hear them – this music was a great vehicle for their skill.  And credit too to their conductor Walter Brewster who not only brought out the best in them but seemed to be sharing in the smiles. 

Although not as familiar as the music Georges Bizet wrote for his great opera Carmen, much of the music he wrote to accompany the play The Girl from Arles (l’Arlésienne) is really familiar.  The orchestra treated us to the rather rustic rhythms and counterpoint in this first suite of pieces from the score including a delicious alto saxophone tune.  They even added the well-known farandole, its two tunes played together with great aplomb.

This lively concert ended with three sparkling dances from the Strauss family; the Village Swallows Waltz included some delightful bird song, no doubt straight out of the Vienna Woods. All in all, an uplifting concert and we look forward to the AVO’s next concert, on Sunday 20 October at The Gateway, Seaton.