Review: TPS February 2024 Concert – Tchaikovsky 4

The first concert of 2024 was exciting and a great start to the rest of the season. Tonight’s performance was some classics, an exciting programme.

To set the scene; the evening was accompanied by excellent programme notes that had been researched by Joanna Mace and added huge enjoyment and education to the whole evening.

The setting for this concert was the intimate surroundings of Tonbridge Parish Church with the high ceilings and good space for acoustics, although it was harder to see the orchestra. It is easier in the Tonbridge School Chapel, but the length of the chapel sometimes makes it harder to hear so well.

After the usual welcoming of the leader – Susan Skone Jones – and the arrival of Naomi Butcher, the first half kicked off with Strauss’ Die Fledermaus overture.

This is so familiar and an excellent opening piece that created anticipation for the music ahead. It took one straight back to the New Year’s Day Concert in Vienna and it was almost impossible not to sway (or hum, heaven forbid) to the music.

Launching straight into this challenging piece – especially for the strings – all sections worked hard together under the energetic baton of Naomi, and it was very well received by the audience.

This overture was a huge effort for the string sections but produced some lovely lyrical playing – especially the cellos – who made it all look so easy and slick.

The second piece was a treat from Smetana Suite from the Bartered Bride.

Again, some familiar melodies here and our programme notes pointed out the links to some folk songs. The sections played artistically, almost sounding like one instrument, involved and evolving as this type of concert should be.

There was lots of rousing brass in this piece which was particularly memorable.

After the break and everyone had a chance to catch their breath the orchestra turned their attention to the classic Tchaikovsky 4.

This piece is a huge orchestral undertaking and an intense creation. As preparation the programme noted that this was a difficult time in the life of Tchaikovsky. As an audience, the intensity of music, the way it was performed, and the shades of light and dark were almost overwhelming. It demonstrated an element of chaos and division in Tchaikovsky life. A troubled man, his soul fighting demons.

Once in stride with all the sections continuing to work well together, notably the wind and strings, the audience sat back and allowed the music to wash over all and fill the church.

After a rousing opening from the trumpets there was a lovely interjection with principal clarinet, bassoon, oboe and flute all coming to the fore with a haunting melody from oboe as they all played in unison.

The most exciting and the most challenging movement cracked off with pace and hugely impressive pizzicato from the strings, brilliantly together with everyone watching the conductor, listening closely to each other – so clever with amazing diligence and timing.

With live music played at this level the audience becomes part of the “conversation” between the interaction of each section. It felt – like they were sitting around a kitchen table, chatting and exchanging views with each other. They all listened so carefully to each other; the bars of music shaped like dialogue with “chamber music ears”.

All round an excellent piece played with musicality and excitement from brass, wind and strings. The pace was almost intoxicating!

It was simply another excellent entertaining evening, very impressive!

It is such a privilege to be able to enjoy a live concert of this calibre, a completely unique experience. I’ve since listened to various recordings of all 3 pieces on the evenings menu and they sound flat and lacklustre in comparison to hearing it in person.

One regular member of the audience said he thought it was the best orchestral Tonbridge Phil concert to date and how up-lifting for Naomi and all who contributed. We all look forward to the next delivery: Bach’s B minor Mass.


CJ Jackson