Concert review: 21st May, 2016

Review from audience member, Jonathan Lane

Some thoughts on last Saturday’s Brandon Hill Chamber Orchestra concert at St Georges’s: we heard Mozart’s Overture to ‘Il Re Pastore’, Brahms’s Violin Concerto and Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony No 3. All were despatched with professional ability and polish, under expressive and well-measured direction from conductor Eduardo Portal, totally belying the amateur origins of this ensemble. They infused Mozart with a spirit of freedom and simplicity, displaying crisp rhythmic articulation with a sense of joy in the many melodies. Mozart is one of the few composers who composed with unalloyed happiness (despite his often insufferable personal circumstances) and this innocent fun shone through. The Brahms Concerto came next, with Thomas Bowes giving a broad but not over earnest interpretation of this repertoire standard, sprinkled with several moments of unselfconscious expressive gestures, and including a passionate account of the challenging Kreisler cadenza. Brahms’s beautifully full textures were coloured with some lovely blended sectional sound and a wonderful balance, with Mr Portal favouring the horns and low woodwind in the sympathetic warmth of the St Georges acoustic. Mr Bowes coaxed a sumptuous sound from his 17th century Amati instrument, particularly remarkable in his full bodied low register. Under his very able fingers its broad woody tone matched the orchestra note for note in a superb balance. The orchestral playing was exemplary in every section with wonderful ensemble, save for a very few hesitant entries, consistently good intonation, and near perfect response to every moment of directed placement and flexed tempi to follow the solo line.

In the second half, Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ fared perhaps slightly less well, having been deprived I suspect of its full share of rehearsal, with a lot of time having very probably gone into the superb presentation of the Brahms. The sound, balance, tempi and sense of musical interpretation convinced, measuring up to the first half, but on occasion detail and ensemble were a little smudged, However, those few moments never detracted from the overall span of Mr Portal’s reading. His attention through the whole concert showed sometimes great dynamic contrasts, but always sensitive, with the players producing with confidence and good tone every dynamic from the quietest to the loudest. He sustained also a sense of structure in the interleaved themes of this complex work, but drawing still a Mendelssohnian elegance and elfin lightness from the orchestra whenever it was needed. This was a superbly played (and well-attended) concert which did not disappoint. The BHCO is a very capable orchestra, and I suspect that the enthusiastic and well-considered direction of an excellent conductor led them to produce more than they knew they had in them. I look forward to their next outing.