Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto; Dvorak’s 7th Symphony

The sizeable audience at Tonbridge Philharmonic Society’s Orchestral Concert at St Stephen’s Church was treated to a well-balanced programme of late-nineteenth century works.   Guest-conducted by Michael Hitchcock, the Overture to Weber’s Der Freischütz gave the evening a dramatic start, with the suitably menacing opening reflecting the setting of a deep dark forest.  The work is a masterpiece of word-painting, and the tense theme of the battle between good and evil was well-represented by the orchestra.  Some early questionable intonation quickly settled, and the orchestra was soon on exuberant form, responding to the up-beat tempo.

The highlight of the concert was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in the sunny key of D major, in which soloist Helen Tonge won the hearts of the audience with her emotional and virtuosic account of this challenging work.  From the outset her sweet tone and  authoritative playing ensured a thrilling and satisfying experience for the listener. The cadenzas in the outer movements are breathtakingly daring, and one could understand why, after its composition in the late 1870s, the violin solo role was considered unplayable! Helen, brought up in Tonbridge, now a professional violinist,  met the challenges head on and displayed her dazzling ability. The orchestra gave excellent support, revelling in the full textures and harmonies of this Romantic work.  They engaged in delightful ‘conversations’ with the soloist, and evidently enjoyed the exciting finale, reacting to Michael Hitchcock’s decisive and energetic beat and clear direction.  

Dvorak’s Symphony No 7 in D minor could have been dubbed the ‘Tragic’ Symphony, with so much melancholy throughout the first three movements.  The emotional turmoil in Dvorak’s personal life is evident in the writing, but the symphony is full of Czech rhythms and idioms, abounding in birdsong and hunting calls. Instrumentalists in all sections of the orchestra shone in the outstanding solos, in particular the woodwind, and there was some luscious string playing in the sweeping melodies. The foot-tapping scherzo taken at a sprightly tempo, saw many phrases being tossed around the orchestra from one musician to another with great aplomb.  Moving into the major key, the finale comes as a relief and the orchestra conveyed excellently the moods from wild ebullience to final solemnity.  Throughout this thoroughly enjoyable concert, the orchestra proved what an astonishingly valuable asset it is to the community.  Mr Hitchcock’s acknowledgement of each individual section met with enthusiastic and warm applause.

Ruth Langridge