Schubert Symphony No. 4

Strauss – Serenade for Wind Instruments Op.7, Tchaikovsky – Serenade for Strings Op.48 and Schubert – Symphony No.4 in C minor ‘Tragic’

This was a well-judged programme for the Society’s first orchestral concert in a new venue, the recently-built Media and Arts Centre at West Kent College.  Audience and performers enjoyed the spacious and welcoming facilities and the addition of theatre lighting lent a sense of occasion and professionalism for this good amateur group.

The choice of pieces by conductor Matthew Willis enabled wind and strings to experience the new acoustic separately and together, while maintaining a cohesive musical journey for the audience.  The single movement Serenade, written by the 17-year-old Richard Strauss, was elegantly and accurately performed by the woodwind and four horns with good intonation and unanimity of breathing and phrasing throughout.   The dry theatre acoustic and Willis’ restrained conducting allowed the players to deliver a clarity and level of detail, which is often lost in this work.

The thirteen wind players were replaced by three times as many string players and we were immediately transported to another place and time!  After the tentative early effort of a student composer, now we were in the hands of Tchaikovsky aged forty and at the top of his game and, boy, did the players rise to the challenge.  It was thrilling to see every player in every section absolutely connected with conductor and composer in the well-known Serenade for Strings.  Each of the four movements was ably characterised and delivered with a richness of sound and, may I say, panache.  On occasions I wanted a more intense soft legato in the upper strings, but this is to pick nits; this was a stirring and accomplished performance.

So what would we get here when we combined both wind and strings, with added trumpets and timpani, for the fourth symphony which Schubert himself called ‘Tragic’? It was an experience worthy of the Viennese salons, which gave us a sense of the excitement that the first performances of such works must have given to 19th century audiences.  There was energy and determination alongside the lyricism and wit which I found very appealing.

Amateur groups can rely on the acoustic of churches to blur the blemishes but this was not available to the Philharmonic in this venue.  Nor did they need it.  It was such a pleasure to be able to hear and see all the detail from our raked seating.  This was a ‘high- definition’ performance in every sense and the long and warm applause at the end was very well earned.

Review by Sara Kemsley