Brahms; Wagner; Schumann Symphony No 3

The Tonbridge Philharmonic Society completed its 60th anniversary season with an orchestral concert in Big School, Tonbridge School on Saturday 30th September. The orchestra has a fairly consistent membership and this was a distinct advantage considering the concert was being presented after only four weeks of rehearsal. A strong sense of teamwork was evident, as was the benefit of working regularly with the distinguished and highly-experienced conductor, Robin Morrish.

The players may be used to working with each other, but the music was far from familiar. The concert began with two works which are rarely played, both being early works of their respective composers, Brahms and Wagner. Although these two giants of the 19th.century German Romantic repertoire were complete opposites in their artistic temperaments, when seen from the perspective of their mature works, these two early works showed less stylistic contrast.

The Serenade in A major by Brahms opened the concert, and presented an immediate challenge to the wind section of the orchestra. Brahms did not include violins in this piece, instead, giving most of the melodic and harmonic content to woodwind and horns, accompanied by violas and cellos – after all, the original Viennese serenades were often written for wind only. The Tonbridge wind team responded confidently and flexibly, with some excellent phrasing and beautiful colouring. Although Brahms set almost insuperable problems for tuning and ensemble, the players tackled them mostly with great success. It was good to enjoy this opportunity for the wind and horns to be in the spotlight, although it would have been advantageous for them to have been in a raised position on the stage. That said, Tonbridge Big School proved to be an excellent venue for both orchestra and audience, and the acoustic was most sympathetic.

The second work was an overture, Die Feen, by a very youthful Wagner. Steeped in the German Romantic operas recently developed by Weber, Wagner here reveals enormous potential, but only occasional hints of what his mature style would be. This is an exuberant and imaginative, albeit somewhat naive work, but it gave the orchestra a chance to show its subtlety and its brilliant power. Robin Morrish demonstrated great sensitivity in shaping the dynamics and structure of the music throughout the evening, but it was in this work that he drew out the glorious tutti of the orchestra for the first time.

The second half of the concert continued to highlight the excellence of the full orchestra. Schumann’s Symphony no.3 was a great contrast to the Brahms Serenade – it is a work of his maturity, and it concentrated on presenting the orchestra as a unity of mixed tone rather than a group of soloists co-operating. There were many opportunities to appreciate the wonderful sounds of the heavy brass and timpani, even though Robin Morrish had to restrain their enthusiasm on several occasions. This is a long work in five movements, and Robin Morrish showed his control over pace and direction in a masterly way. The orchestra gained confidence from the solid scoring adopted by Schumann, and this enabled the ensemble to reflect the changing moods of solemnity, introspection and joyful celebration.

This was a fine evening and a tribute to conductor and orchestra as they embark upon their next sixty years of spirited and dedicated music making in Tonbridge.

Roger Evernden