Franck’s Symphony In D Minor

The Tonbridge Philharmonic Society’s Orchestral Concert on 17th February will be remembered for a long time by both orchestra and the audience. The concert was directed by guest-conductor, Michael Hitchcock. Hitchcock gave us an entertaining and informative introduction to the programme and it was clear from the outset that he had both orchestra and audience eating out of his hand. The three pieces which formed the programme, Nicolai “Overture, Merry Wives of Windsor”, Arutiunian “Trumpet Concerto” and Franck’s Symphony In D Minor are little known in the orchestral repertoire but together they created a well-balanced programme full of musical variety and character and were warmly received by a packed audience in St Stephen’s Church.

The balance between the instruments and ensemble playing was excellent in the “Overture, Merry Wives of Windsor”. The orchestra achieved much contrast in dynamics and tone colour. The quieter, more lyrical sections were played with great sensitivity and Hitchcock worked the orchestral forces to their musical and physical limits in achieving high-intensity musical drama at the close of the work.

The highlight of the concert was Jeremy Clack’s performance of the Trumpet Concerto by Arutiunian. The audience knew they were in for a real treat from the opening bars of the music. Clack’s playing was exquisite and without musical or technical blemish. The Concerto was first performed in 1950. Although Aratiunian does not actually include Armenian folk tunes in the work one can hear the influences of Eastern European musical culture in the music; the driving dance-like rhythms and melodic ideas based on the pentatonic scale. At times the harmonies and percussive qualities in the music are very close to Shostakovich’s compositional style. In the more lyrical sections of the work one can almost hear Jazz influences and the musical style of George Gershwin. This concerto is a show-piece for the trumpet, exploiting trumpet technique to its greatest extremes. It was obvious that Jeremy Clack and the TPS Orchestra had developed a great musical partnership and rapport together. The orchestra sensitively took the role of accompanist when necessary and Clack allowed the orchestral textures to come through dominantly at the appropriate moments in the music. Clack’s playing was full of energy and I have never heard such variety of tone colour achieved on the trumpet. It was clear that both orchestra and audience appreciated and admired Clack’s musicianship and technical skills. Clack received extended applause from a hugely appreciative audience.

After the interval there was no respite for the orchestra. The Symphony In D Minor by Cesar Franck was as musically and as technically demanding as the music in the first half of the programme. Franck’s orchestral compositional output is small (Hitchcock informed us in his introduction that Franck’s wife disapproved of him writing for orchestra!) which is a great pity as he clearly had a great creative flair for orchestration and instrumentation. One can almost feel Franck’s frustration in this symphony that perhaps he would have liked the freedom to have developed further his orchestral repertoire. Most of Franck’s compositional output was vocal writing or solo pieces for organ. When writing for organ the composer treats this great instrument as if it were every instrument in an orchestra (for example the organ has trumpet and flute stops). Franck involves every instrument of his orchestral score in the Symphony. There are beautiful passages in the second movement for cor-anglais and first violins. The ensemble playing in the first violins was excellent (led by Penny Morrish) throughout the work. There was excellent balance between the instrumental entries and a huge range of dynamics was explored. The softer, lyrical passages were treated with great sensitivity and there was tremendous energy in the highly charged sections of the work requiring much musical drama and intensity.

The audience were treated to an evening of high quality music making of a professional level. My congratulations to Michael Hitchcock and the Tonbridge Philharmonic Orchestra. I shall certainly be looking out for Jeremy Clack’s next concert engagement!