An evening of Romantic French music at St Stephen’s Church delighted a large and enthusiastic audience. Under the energetic direction of guest conductor Michael Hitchcock, the orchestra gave stirring performances of works by Berlioz and Bizet. It was a veritable tour de force.
In Berlioz’s Overture, Les Francs-Juges, the menacing trombones together with the percussion and brass section conjured up the terrifying ordeal endured by prisoners on trial for whom the only sentence was death.
Harold in Italy is essentially a conversation between orchestra and solo viola. Soloist Robin Morrish gave an assured, warm and sonorous performance but, because of the muted nature of the instrument, its sound carried more readily in quieter moments such as the beautiful duet with the harp in the first movement. The relentless double bass pizzicato effectively underpinned the second movement, reflecting the pilgrims trudging along to evening prayer. The final movement is otherwise called the Orgie des Brigands, and it is certainly furiously dramatic. However, on this occasion the tempo was a little cautious to be described as allegro frenetico.
The orchestra was in its element in the L’Arlesienne Suite by George Bizet, drawn from incidental music composed for Alphonse Daudet’s eponymous play. They opened the work with a splendidly confident unison string theme for the Marchio dei Rei and produced stunning solos from flute, harp and saxophone. In the final movement, where march and Provencal Farandole come together, the orchestra played with verve and panache.
Michael Hitchcock is well-known for his work with young people as a music teacher and orchestral trainer. He successfully brought out the best in this talented and hard-working local orchestra.