The splendid concert given by Abergavenny Symphony Orchestra, under their conductor Michael Bell at Our Lady & St Michael’s RC Church, Abergavenny, in a stimulating and well-contrasted programme, had as its undoubted highlight a thrilling rendering of Elgar’s Cello Concerto from Welsh National Opera’s principal cellist Rosie Biss. This was simply the most powerful and dramatic live performance of the solo part I can remember hearing for a long time. What was particularly noticeable was the way that the orchestra rose to accompany their virtuoso guest every step of the way, requiring no concession whatsoever for their amateur status.
The concert opened with Beethoven’s powerful and heroic Egmont Overture and concluded with a lovely account of Dvorak’s 6th Symphony, the most neglected of his published last four symphonies, replete with the Czech exuberance and vitality that characterise all of this composer’s work.
The afternoon belonged, however, without question, to Elgar.
Last Sunday, Abergavenny Symphony Orchestra chose to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams by featuring contributions from musicians directly associated with it. Principle trombonist Iestyn Harding is also an accomplished composer, and his stimulating tone-poem, Song at the Year’s Turning, received its première alongside a spellbinding rendering of V.W.’s sublime The Lark Ascending from violinist Gillian Bradley, herself a former member of the band.
After the interval, we were treated to a fine performance of the composer’s 5th Symphony. Written in 1943 during the height of hostilities, it is a masterpiece of such vision and resonance that it must surely be considered as one of the most sheerly moving compositions in the entire symphonic canon. The commitment and engagement of all the players ensured that the work’s message of hope and optimism in time of conflict and destruction was communicated with all its relevance to a contemporary audience.
Michael Bell’s reign as conductor of the ASO is proving to be something of a Golden Age, as this was one of the most memorable of their concerts I have been fortunate to attend.
Superb first spring concert in over two years
Abergavenny Symphony Orchestra returned to full complement with a performance of the Dvorak 8th Symphony which was not only played with considerable panache and technical accomplishment but, under conductor Michael Bell, caught the genuine Slavonic lilt essential to this most sheerly Czech of the composer’s symphonies.
It is the work which finally sheds any vestige of the Germanic influence which prevailed in European music in the first half of the 19th Century.
The concert, in Our Lady and St Michael’s Church, Abergavenny, on Sunday, opened with the wind and string sections demonstrating their distinctive colours with aplomb performing Richard Strauss’ Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments followed by Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C.
The return of this much-loved band in such superb form, under new leader Marisa Riordan, promises an assured future for music-making in the area after the long drought of lock-down and restrictions.