REVIEW: Chichester Symphony Orchestra

cellist Pavlos Carvalho
cellist Pavlos Carvalho

Summer Concert,  Festival of Chichester, St. Paul’s Church, Chichester

Each year as the Festival of Chichester draws to a close the Chichester Symphony Orchestra performs its Summer Concert at St. Paul’s Church by the Northgate roundabout. The Festival’s promotion marketing helps to encourage a large audience and this year’s was reckoned to be the largest ever with c200 enthusiastically packing into the church. Hot though we were in this long dry spell, it was nothing in comparison to the hard working players who gave their all throughout the evening to great effect.

The concert opened with Mozart’s wonderful Magic Flute Overture, K620 composed in the last few months of his life. As the well-researched and interesting programme notes informed us, Mozart brings together the polar opposites of the opera, profundity and comedy with such conviction that there is an invigorating sense that something special is in store. The same can be said of the orchestra, under the relatively new team of Simon Wilkins (Conductor) and Catherine Lawlor (Leader), as the Overture was performed with great verve but attention to detail to provide an uplifting start to the programme.

The appreciative applause gave the players a little time to cool down before being joined by Pavlos Carvalho for Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104. Pavlos’ biography is certainly impressive in terms of international competition successes and performing in the UK and abroad, but there is clearly much more to his musicality than the straight classical repertoire with much involvement in education programmes and concluding the Festival here in Chichester performing with a Greek folk music band. His ability to communicate sensitively in music was immediately apparent in his rapport with the conductor and given full rein in this superb concerto with its mix of chamber music-like passages and symphonic grandeur. The duet between soloist and leader was both visually and audibly perfect with Pavlos’ turning to make eye contact and the same level of togetherness was apparent in the other chamber combinations even though the woodwind and brass sections were obviously behind him. Dvorak’s writing for the cello is justifiably much loved, particularly by cellists, as evidenced by the wonderfully melodic theme in his 8th Symphony and this concerto is equally popular, often being paired in recordings with Elgar’s. Soloist and orchestra did full justice to Dvorak’s blend of national idioms and folk tunes with symphonic traditions that were also influenced by his time in America where this concerto was written. The rapturous applause would probably have gone on for even longer if not for everyone needing a breath of fresh air.

The concert concluded with Sibelius’ challenging Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, Op.82 written during the First World War and in time for his 50th birthday celebrations which, as a Finnish national hero, were virtually a national holiday. Perhaps even more so than Dvorak the music of Sibelius expresses a strong nationalistic consciousness but it is by no means all bombastic. The orchestra’s horns and brass sections played their many memorable passages superbly, particularly in the third movement building to the finale, whilst the strings handled the rather eerie and contemplative central movement sensitively and watchfully. Throughout the complex woodwind writing with many soloistic passages, superbly played, and the understated but musically effective conducting of Simon Wilkins held the piece confidently together to its exultant final chords delivered to unusual double-fisted sweeps of the baton.

This was a concert worthy of concluding the Festival of Chichester, well programmed and clearly carefully rehearsed, which was hugely enjoyed by the audience. The orchestra, soloist and conductor can be justly proud of their achievements and we can look forward to their next offering – the always popular lunchtime concert in Chichester Cathedral on 23rd October.

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