This concert demonstrated not only how well the orchestra comes together with conductor Nicholas Concannon Hedges, but also the solo skills of several of its members.
The mood for the evening was set by Modest Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on a Bare Mountain’ describing satanic revels. Shivering strings introduce a threatening and vigorous theme on the brass. The music gets livelier until daylight brings peace.
Next came Ralph Vaughan Williams’ tuba concerto in F minor. Soloist Les Neish played with sensitivity, aplomb, and maybe a touch of jazz. The tuba surfed the orchestra in the assertive, jolly first movement, and went on to a cadenza when it played alone. The second movement is typical Vaughan Williams with a serene melody that sounds like a traditional English folk tune. Mood and pace vary in the concluding movement. The audience demanded that Les Neish should return, and he obliged with an encore in which the tuba at times sounded like a didgeridoo and at times seemed to speak.
‘Symphonie Fantastique’ by Hector Berlioz concluded the concert. It tells the story of the composer’s obsession with a woman, and goes on to fantasise a dramatic ending. She, or maybe Berlioz’ idea of her, is represented by a recurring theme, which has a feeling of yearning and despair. The first movement is flowing and amorous. The second begins with a mood of excitement, succeeded by a sunny waltz, but the theme disturbs this cheerful mood. The third movement begins with lovely woodwind solos, echoing each other. Tension builds when the woman appears, and there is thunder towards the end. The fourth movement is the strongest – a sardonic depiction of the composer being marched to his execution for murdering the woman he is obsessed with. There is grim humour here, and a relentless rhythm drives the composer to what sounds like the guillotine. But he is not finished yet. There is a satanic revel in the last movement. Strange creatures seem to celebrate the whole affair, with a raucous ending.