Axe Vale Orchestra performs contrasting works

The Axe Vale Orchestra at the concert in Colyton. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The Axe Vale Orchestra at the concert in Colyton. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Ray Bruno reviews the latest afternoon concert at Colyton Feoffees Hall

It was inspired programming to contrast works by Berlioz and Mendelssohn in the Axe Vale Orchestra’s latest afternoon concert at Colyton Feoffees Hall.

Both men were geniuses. Both pushed the frontier of music forward as to what music could do and how it could do it.

But first we heard Sullivan’s Overture to The Pirates of Penzance, full of jolly little tunes which occasionally made me think of Verdi, believe it or not.

The Berlioz was the song cycle Les Nuits d’Été sung by the popular Chloe Stratta. What a lovely voice she has and what expressivity she showed in this melancholy music. It does however start with a delightful villanelle all about walks in the woods, picking wild strawberries and listening to the blackbirds. It is a pity that the words were not printed in the programme for even Chloe’s expression could not get across all the meanings. For the middle four songs we change to a much more sombre mood. Here Chloe’s sultry singing was perfectly matched to the references to faded flowers, separated lovers and white tombs. Perhaps it was better we didn’t understand all the words, but we could marvel at Berlioz’s extraordinary orchestration and the way the guest conductor for this piece, Leslie Baker, communicated these wonderful sounds. This was heady, intoxicating music which was beautifully performed by all. It belies its title: it really isn’t summer night music, but we are in Autumn now. The last of the songs is about sailing to a shore where love is unending. The exuberance of this song left us suitably uplifted.

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We think of Mozart as a child prodigy, but it was Mendelssohn who astonished the world, including Queen Victoria, with his youthful genius. At the age of 16 he wrote a string octet of such poignancy and originality that I still marvel at it each time I hear it. The AVO, now under its superb principle conductor Arturo Serna, played Mendelssohn’s colourful 4th symphony. It is known as The Italian because the inspiration was a long visit to Italy in his early twenties. I felt the opening movement was played a little too fast and some of the energy was lost when certain passages didn’t quite work. However, the orchestra communicated well the striking changes in key and mood and managed the dynamic contrasts well. The second movement, marked andante con moto, was exactly as marked, finely pointed and controlled with a good forward motion. The third movement could have been a little more lilting with its fairy horns section (the AVO will be performing Mendelssohn’s fairy music next year in his Midsummer Night’s Dream music). I’ve heard the finale played faster but I did feel the speed chosen was appropriate and so the extraordinary twists and turns and the piling up of tension and drama came over well.

Well done to the Axe Vale Orchestra for bringing us such vivid, live orchestral music.

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