Review of Brahms Concert on 21st March 2009

Sunday, 22 March 2009 00:00 Peter Marsh
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It was brave of the Winchester Symphony Orchestra to mount a single-composer programme and to choose Brahms as that composer - Brahmsone who shuns dramatic, colourful effects for serious, mature working of quite abstract materials. However, when over seventy players packed the stage of New Hall they were rewarded with an equally packed auditorium. There was colour to enjoy in the opening Academic Festival Overture during which all sections of the orchestra were able to settle in before the more subtle challenges to come. Energy marked this opener just as strong commitment and concentration marked the later third symphony. Casual listeners may not be aware of the considerable challenges of Brahms's syncopations and cross-rhythms and it was a mark of thorough preparation that the whole evening's performance demonstrated such security of ensemble in such a large band and much credit is due to conductor Nicholas Wilks. He exuded enthusiasm and alertness throughout and drew effective dynamic shading from his players, particularly in the symphony.

The centre-piece of this concert and a major attraction for the large audience was Brahms's first piano concerto with the deservedly popular Roger Owens as a spell-binding soloist. This work began life as a sketch for a symphony and is huge in duration and structural complexity. The piano writing has been described as awkward and unwieldy demanding 'more physical strength than elegance and technical accomplishment'. Yet these attributes were wonderfully displayed by the gifted Mr. Owens who was more than a match for the virtuoso part. His brilliant control and interpretative insight were never at the expense of the overall ensemble. He followed the other players sensitively and they and their conductor followed him despite the work's often illogical design. If there were occasional anxious orchestral entries after substantial piano-only passages they were few and far between and did not detract from a highly commendable performance. The audience was justifiably thrilled and its warm response was marvellously rewarded by a sparkling and truly hair-raising encore - a witty pot-pourri of Chopin excerpts.

Derek Beck

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 March 2009 17:48