The Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra performed at St Andrew’s Church on Saturday evening and received rapturous applause from the capacity audience.
Conductor Michael Stefan Wood BEM chose an ambitious and technically demanding programme for the Spring concert. It required many sections of the orchestra to divide into multiple parts and cope with huge variations in tempo and dynamics – to say nothing of skilled musicianship.
Hansel and Gretel Prelude by Humperdinck was the first offering and from their opening entry there was secure playing from all sections of the orchestra. The French horn section shone with some beautiful legato phrasing in the ‘Evening Prayer’ melody, while the rest of the musicians demonstrated great use of light and shade throughout. The dramatic passages gave the audience a taste of what was to come later in the programme.
The soloist in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor was the outstanding Emmanuel Bach. The work is renowned for its soaring melodies and has a reputation as a true masterpiece of the Romantic era. Emmanuel’s performance was technically flawless, and the audience were spellbound by his virtuosity. Mike Wood deftly ensured the soloist was never drowned by the full weight of the orchestra. The well-known theme was played with great sensitivity, and when the full ensemble repeated the theme, it had a beautiful, dreamy quality.
There were impressive pizzicato passages in the Adagio and Emmanuel rose to new heights in the majestic sections. The Finale had a distinctive fervour and the orchestra responded well to the rhythmic demands of the piece.
Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.2 in E minor – premiered in 1908 – was a highly ambitious choice for a local orchestra, indeed many professionals consider it technically demanding. However, this is where BHSO demonstrated they were more than up for the challenge.
For lovers of romantic music, this is orchestral catnip and at 60 minutes long it is packed with mellifluous melodies. Taxing throughout, there is an epic grandeur to the symphony and Rachmaninov’s ‘big tunes’ come thick and fast. Each movement demanded disciplines of counterpoint and polyphony ensuring a seamless flow of sound throughout.
In the Finale, there were orchestral fireworks with enthusiastic rhythm from the timpani and percussion, galloping triplets, a march-like theme and huge variations of pace and mood. The sparkling coda brought the symphony to its buoyant conclusion with great flourish.
The solo sections deserve special mention – Cor-anglais, Penny Atkins; Oboe, Mia Clift; Bass clarinet, Melanie Boyes; Trumpet 1, Paul Kelly; Horn 1, John Peskett; and Clarinet 1, Meghan Nicholas.
In the silent moments, you could hear a pin drop, and the audience appeared almost static. A lady sitting nearby declared as the bows took place “this orchestra should be performing at the Albert Hall” and there were expressions of agreement from those within earshot.
Burgess Hill is fortunate to have a Symphony Orchestra of this calibre – they are extraordinarily accomplished. Under the experienced baton of Maestro Mike Wood, they are really going places, so don’t miss the opportunity to catch their next concert on 18 November.
By Susan Fleet