Superb sound with rich acoustics in Axminster

Cellist Arturo Serna. Picture: Contributed

Cellist Arturo Serna. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

Axe Vale Orchestra performed at The Minster, Axminster, on Sunday, May 13. Anthony Palmer reviewed the concert.

Axe Vale Orchestra performed at The Minster, Axminster, on Sunday, May 13. Anthony Palmer reviewed the concert.

It has been said that civilisation moves ahead in great leaps – think of the building of the medieval cathedrals. Perhaps there’s some sort of spirit or energy in the air.

Composers, too, have amazing bursts of creativity. Schubert wrote a trilogy of great piano sonatas in his last few days on earth.

Then there is Mozart. His last three symphonies were completed in a period of just eight weeks during a difficult period of his life. We can’t explain how he did this but simply wonder at these extraordinary creations as we did, as we listened to the Axe Vale Orchestra conducted by their principal conductor Arturo Serna.

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Mozart’s symphony No. 40 ended their concert. A definite sine qua non.

First though we heard Sibelius’s Valse Triste. The spooky pizzicato notes which began it superbly set the scene for this macabre little dance all about death and phantoms. Arturo Serna perfectly captured the mood and also eased us through the different emotional states.

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We needed something a little warmer and uplifting to follow and we certainly got this in Brahms’s rarely played Serenade No 2.

We tend to think of Brahms as the serious, bearded bachelor but he had his lighter side and this serenade was sheer delight in the hands of this orchestra who go from strength to strength under Serna. I say ‘orchestra’ but this piece is for scaled-down forces with no violins (perhaps this is why I switched from the violin to the viola at school). However, it was the woodwind which shone in this piece from the warm opening chorale to the jaunty and energetic closing bars. Despite the intricacy found in several of the movements, and there are five of them, the musicians brought out the seamless quality of much of the writing. I loved the meltingly beautiful harmonic sequences in the third movement. The performance seemed effortless despite its complexities.

Mozart’s Symphony No 40 is one of the great masterpieces, in the same league as the Beethoven No 5 we heard last time.

Mozart’s last three symphonies are respectively bright, dark and bright. He seems to have reserved G minor for especially poignant works and this one was written soon after the death of his daughter. He had written an earlier symphony in the same key and some of the gripping power was present then, too.

Right from the brisk opening we experienced the drama and impetus which Serna seems to be a master of. The following slow movement was mesmerising as the layers of texture slowly unfolded.

Well done AVO. The third movement had the spring of a lion but with attention to the clever dovetailing of ideas. How astonishingly original Mozart was, and how his first audiences must have been perplexed. Perhaps we lucky ones who were present should feel the same way. There is conjecture that Mozart never heard it performed. In the last movement Mozart (and Serna) drive us through the winding up of tension to the seismic conclusion which sounded superb in the rich acoustics of The Minster. It’s hard to find words to describe Mozart’s astonishing outpourings. But you appreciate them more by actually being there and seeing as well as hearing what is happening.

Thank you AVO and Arturo Serna. And, as a light aside, did you know that one of Mozart’s baptismal names was John? Doesn’t sound as impressive as Wolfgang Amadeus, does it?

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