Electrifying Axe Vale Orchestra concert in Seaton

PUBLISHED: 17:00 12 March 2018

Cellist Arturo Serna. Picture: Contributed

Cellist Arturo Serna. Picture: Contributed

Archant

Axe Vale Orchestra's February concert made for compelling listening.

Gordon Langford was a local boy and there aren’t many composers you can say that about, writes Ray Bruno.

Known primarily for his work with brass bands he also arranged music for both the BBC and Hollywood.

His compositions were new to me so it was with great curiosity that I listened to the Axe Vale Orchestra’s playing of his Axminster Overture especially since it was this orchestra which gave the first performance in 2012.

I was impressed. It starts with a real wake-up call using lots of brass – of course. Through the subsequent changes of mood the opening theme is never far from the surface.

A really uplifting start to the concert. I wish it were played more often.

Dvorak was a great master composer having written probably the greatest cello concerto and one of the greatest romantic symphonies.

I don’t think these works paid the mortgage but his sets of Slavonic Dances were the money spinners his publisher hoped they would be, especially in the version for piano duet which many amateurs bought to play at home.

In them, he seemed to capture the spirit of his home country but in fact he made up all the tunes himself; he used no traditional folk music.

The AVO played three dances from the first published set. These are such well-known pieces and credit is due to the orchestra and especially to their principal conductor Arturo Serna that they played with such freshness and vivacity.

These are less dances and more symphonic movements and I was struck by how much detail and complexity there is in this music, made even clearer by actually being there and seeing as well as hearing. You don’t get this sitting in front of a loudspeaker !

If I could be a time traveller I would love to go back to 1805 to the first performance of Beethoven’s Third Symphony and observe the response of the shocked audience and musicians. Nothing like it had ever been heard before.

But it could not have prepared them for the mighty fifth symphony three years later! This is one of those pieces of music which I have to psych myself up to hearing – it is such a forceful and disturbing piece, even to 21st century ears. How brave of the AVO and their conductor to dare to play this.

That so familiar opening is actually off the beat and must present real problems to any musician. The music contains huge tensions and massive piling up of dissonances. The performers didn’t pull any punches here and I felt quite exhausted at the end of the movement, as you should be.

The slow movement opens with a lovely and gentle melody played beautifully by the cellos and violas. The numerous mood swings in this long but eventful movement were splendidly captured by the orchestra.

And I loved the bassoon touches before the thunderous end to the movement.

The third movement brings back the opening fate motif but now no longer off the beat but with three beats in the bar. The orchestra were especially good in the mysterious, even spooky pianissimo build up to the triumphant finale. What did Beethoven’s first audience make of all this? We heard this played with great power and with good forward movement right up to the blaze of sound which ends the symphony. Perhaps accuracy was sacrificed for the sake of momentum but this was a most compelling performance and the players must be congratulated for a fine achievement. Well Done AVO.

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