In 1825 the 28-year-old Franz Schubert took a much needed holiday in the Alps where he began writing the last of his symphonies. Three years later the unfortunate young composer died in Vienna.
Yet, his glorious ‘Great C major’ symphony still lives on, still excites the listener, and still tugs at the heartstrings, as it did in this ebullient performance by the City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra under its conductor Steve Bingham.
One beautiful melody followed another throughout its ‘heavenly length,’ shared out between woodwind, brass, and strings. Each one apparently simple and song-like, yet perhaps plumbing the most profound emotional depths of any music ever written.
Not that Steve’s interpretation wallowed in emotionalism or lingered on the mystical elements in the score. On the contrary, this was a lively, cut-and-thrust performance which definitely didn’t hang about.
There were times when this approach worked splendidly. As for instance in the section of the slow movement where poignancy turns to outright panic. Or in the driving, thunderous conclusions to the first and last movements.
But, at other times the music felt hurried, and the relentless speeds didn’t give the music time enough to breathe, expand, or slow down where necessary. An example was the famous trombone melody in the opening Allegro where the mystery inherent in the music was sacrificed to inexorable forward movement.
Even the opening horn melody felt more like an obstacle to be negotiated, and less like the magical invocation that it surely should be.
On the other hand, the slow movement’s oboe solo was full of charm and the CPSO strings coped nobly with the unrelenting demands of Schubert’s score. Leader Liz Taylor contributed consistently decisive playing that helped to hold the section together.
There had been more delightfully clear and incisive playing earlier in the concert when guitarist Amanda Cook was the exemplary soloist in Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. From her introductory solo it was obvious that Amanda lived and breathed this charming music and had made it her own.
The many semiquaver passages throughout the three-movement piece were played with a precision that was delightful to see and hear. Aided by the kind of rhythmic emphasis that does so much to give the piece its unmistakably Spanish flavour.
But, in the slow movement there was also plenty of vibrant guitar tone. Especially in the low-pitched version of the famous tune, which explores the bottom register of the instrument almost transforming the guitar into a human voice.
Accompanying Amanda, the CPSO under Steve Bingham was at its best, providing a delicate, translucent background which obviated any problems of balance. Not to mention a rich-toned cor anglais solo by Dominic Paine.
To open the concert the orchestra had given a committed performance of the Sinfonietta No 1 by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. This rarity, composed in 1916, is subtitled ‘In Memoriam Mozart,’ but I have to admit that I couldn’t distinguish any obviously Mozartian influences at a first hearing.
Nevertheless, it proved an entertaining and enjoyable piece in its own right. And an enterprising curtain-raiser to a contrasted, colourful, and well attended concert.
Review: JOE CONWAY