The city has always been fortunate to have an amateur orchestra of the size and quality of Plymouth Symphony Orchestra on its doorstep.
This special programme – a musical celebration of the Queen’s 90th Birthday earlier this year – got off to a great start with an electrifying performance of Walton’s Crown Imperial March, which must surely have tugged at the heart-strings of even the most hardened antiroyalist.
Having got the party-mood in full swing, it then seemed a shame that the next couple of pieces did little or nothing to maintain this. Clearly these two works for strings only, were intended to give the brass section a vital breather, but there are, perhaps, some other options out there.
But bring on Ralph Vaughan Williams, and everything is back on track again, in the captivating form of his mini-concerto for violin and orchestra – The Lark Ascending. From the first to last note, this was an outstanding performance from New Zealand-born Benjamin Baker, despatched with such simple, heartfelt emotion, over a finely-contoured and immensely warm accompaniment from the orchestra.
From then on, the celebrations kicked off again with great aplomb, starting with Walton’s Charge and Battle from his Henry V Suite – wisely slotted in before the interval – to ensure everyone was back in real high spirits for Holst’s Jupiter, and finally Elgar’s glorious Enigma Variations. Here, conductor Anne Kimber could not have asked for more from her loyal subjects, led by Dawn Ashby, resulting in one of the orchestra’s most inspired performances to date.
PHILIP R BUTTALL
Plymouth Symphony Orchestra has featured music from the movies at previous concerts. But it’s never sounded like this before.
There had been but few changes of personnel among the ranks and, as ever, conductor Anne Kimber gave her absolute all throughout.
But while a conductor can infuse music with an individual interpretation, they still need someone to communicate this to the players in more practical terms.
In Cath Smith the orchestra has now got a superb leader who not only looks after technical issues, but brings such a sense of vigour, enthusiasm and sheer enjoyment to her role, and which immediately inspires the orchestra as a whole.
This was so evident not only in the strings’ gloriously-rich rendition of Born Free, or the precision and excitement in the jagged, percussive rhythms of Pirates of the Caribbean, but also in the way it encouraged such fine woodwind solo playing on the night, and gave real confidence to the horn section, who often can appear so very exposed in this kind of writing.
Through the auspices of Plymouth Music Accord there were many young people present, who could only have been truly motivated by what they were hearing – and hopefully might even come again.
As for the rest of the large audience, two separate standing ovations said it all – a quite outstanding performance from the city’s only symphony orchestra.
PHILIP R BUTTALL
Plymouth Symphony Orchestra has been giving three large-scale concerts annually for years – something that needs much time and dedication from players who give their services freely.