Superb afternoon of traditional and innovative programming with Axe Vale Orchestra

PUBLISHED: 17:00 28 October 2017

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Axe Vale Orchestra recently performed in Colyton. Here is Ray Bruno's review of the concert.

When I lived in the Chilterns a local blackbird used to sing the opening bars of Poulenc’s Flute Concerto, writes Ray Bruno.

Of course, I never thought that I would be hearing the actual concerto live at St Andrew’s Church in Colyton played by songster Jeremy White, who we already knew as a retired minister of the church as well as a sailor on a Devon Yawl.

Now his musical talent was on show. This is a difficult work with longs runs, trills and grace notes which he managed with ease. I loved his flowingly lyrical line which sometimes rang out and other times managed to meld in beautifully with the orchestral texture.

His playing also had great clarity. In fact, the concerto started life as a sonata but the piano part was orchestrated by the great Lennox Berkeley whose son, incidentally, introduces Private Passions on Radio 3 each Sunday.

The concert started with the overture Mendelssohn wrote for the play Ruy Blas, Victor Hugo’s statement of discontent with current politics. If Mendelssohn disliked the play it doesn’t show; the overture is a perfect curtain-raiser with its sinister chords and scampering string tunes. I particularly liked the flowing tune near the end evocatively played by bassoons and cellos.

Four of Lyadov’s Russian Songs (actually with no singing) gave the various sections of the orchestra the chance to show off their qualities. The pieces are spooky in mood but the orchestra splendidly coped with Lyadov’s glowing orchestration much of which is reduced to just a few instruments, even to just a solo cello (beautifully played).

One thing Mozart and Mendelssohn had in common was that they were both child prodigies.

Some of Mendelsohn’s finest music was written in his mid teens and by this age Mozart had already had a number of operas produced.

So it was fitting that the concert should start with Mendelssohn and finish with Mozart, his Symphony No. 31. Whilst nicknamed The Paris Symphony, it very much follows in the Manheim style which he was familiar with and which typically has a whoosh of an opening. Thus the symphony announces its arrival and conductor Arturo Serna really caught the energy and impact of the opening bars.

There are several interesting features in this work including what sounded like a Rossini crescendo and the fact that it has just three rather than the familiar four movements. The orchestra played the middle Andantino with a lovely lilting touch and then gave us plenty of welly in the finale in which the trumpets add a lot of power to the orchestral palate.

The bold contrasts and the intertwining melodies gave us a preview of the symphonies which Mozart was later to write.

Well done Axe Vale Orchestra for a superb afternoon of traditional and innovative programming (and SUCH delicious cakes afterwards).

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