The orchestra of Tonbridge Philharmonic Society set itself a huge challenge with the programme for its February concert at St Stephen’s Church. Guest conducted by Michael Hitchcock, three works of varying length and difficulty were the goals challenged and bravely met. It was good to see resident conductor Robin Morrish playing in the viola section and his wife Penny leading the orchestra with her customary unassuming expertise.
Opening with flutes & luscious string playing, we set off on a watery journey down the mighty River Vltava in Smetana’s eponymous symphonic poem. A masterpiece of word painting, the orchestration matches beautifully the twists and turns of the river, the changing scenery and life on the banks alongside. Each section of the orchestra had its chance to shine, and the lower brass instruments were commanding in the turbulent moments, in comparison with the shimmering evocation of the moon shining on the water. Reaching the wide reaches of the river’s flow into Prague, the orchestra came together in a majestic finale before gliding on towards its destination and the final two cymbal crashes.
The Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera was commissioned to write a concerto in 1956 by American harpist Edna Phillips, but it was not performed until 1965. At Tonbridge Phil’s concert, soloist Anna Wynne was more than capable of taking on this work of dazzling virtuosity. Demanding a wide range of effects and skills, the influences of contemporary composers were evident, from Copland and Stravinsky to Bartok and Berg. The orchestra is required to display its own abilities too, with an especially important role for the large percussion section. Players and audience alike enjoyed the Latin dance influence and jazz rhythms. From the opening notes, Anna Wynne demonstrated her supremely confident technique, and mastery of the instrument. Communication with the conductor and orchestra resulted in a performance of breathtaking art. The gorgeous dialogue between harp and birdsong of the woodwind, and magical ending to the second movement left one unprepared for the dazzling cadenza which preceded the third and final movement. Rapturous applause was well deserved for both soloist and orchestra.
Bruckner’s 4th ‘Romantic’ Symphony is a tour de force for any orchestra. This is a monumental work-out for every section, with tremendous pits and troughs like a galleon on the high seas. Michael Hitchcock piloted the ship with quiet authority, and a dependable, decisive beat, urging and cajoling his sailors to ever more effort. Although a few intonation problems did occur the during the symphony, the overall standard of playing was impressive, considering this was a performance lasting eighty-five minutes. The brass section was thrilling throughout. Special moments included the ‘cellos in their sumptuous melody and beautifully controlled phrases thrown from one player to another in the second movement; some lovely woodwind passages in the Ländler section of the Scherzo. In the amazing Finale, just when one could not imagine Bruckner thinking of anything else to say, yet another thrusting crescendo would manifest itself until the the end came into sight, leaving orchestra and audience exhausted but exhilarated.