Worthing Symphony Orchestra delights under deputy conductor
Worthing Symphony Orchestra ‘Romantic Classics’ concert at The Assembly Hall (2.45pm), Sunday 24 April 2022; guest conductor Hilary Davan Wetton; violin soloist Cristian Grajner of Sa.
Beethoven, Egmont Overture Op84; Bruch, Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor Op26; Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 3 in the “Scottish” Op56.
It has been 22 years and some 160 gigs in a row since music and artistic director John Gibbons last missed conducting the monthly WSO concert in Worthing. But he was there listening to his senior associate form a grain of Worthing’s musical history and leave his own mark on WSO fans – who came confident in Gibbons’ choice of deputy, just as they trust his monthly music selection.
This popular program was what Hilary Davan Wetton (say middle name in “Devon” beat) devised six months ago after a call that Gibbons would be recording that day in Latvia with the Lepāja Symphony Orchestra for Toccata Classics . Covid sabotaged those foreign plans, but resuming your gig from your designated replacement is not cricket. Gibbons supports Hampshire CCC, so he joined the public. . .
Davan Wetton is probably unknown to most Worthing viewers. Showing up after the Overture, with barely concealed excitement for a highly experienced conductor and choir, he promptly told his listeners how lucky they were to have such an orchestra and such an acoustically superior hall ( “one of the finest halls in England”), and that he hoped they would continually spread the word.
Gibbons reported, “I sat in several different places during the concert and it was very interesting to see how well the orchestra sounded all over the room. What was particularly pleasing was that on the resonant front extension of the stage, the cellos – only three of them – produced such a huge sound, which got richer and richer.
Davan Wetton, a tall figure with downcast, side-parted hair, sometimes outstretched arms, and a broad, poised, and witty personality, immediately gave audiences a seething feeling of enthusiastically sharing his music with them. “Mendelssohn is probably the most overlooked of famous composers. This is my favorite Mendelssohn Symphony – you can hear him react to his experiences in Scotland. It’s full of passion. And who better for you to play it now than the Worthing Symphony Orchestra?
And the passion was duly drawn from a professional orchestra, some knowing Davan Wetton, some not. With color and urgency, affection and fervor, this bloody interpretation persuaded this Scotsman to equal, if not surpass, the Italian Symphony (No. 4) by this hyper-observant and sensitive composer. in terms of content and emotional range.
On his inspiring visit north of the border, you could hear in the music that Mendelssohn intuitively sensed and almost divined the wit and fire of Scottish temperament alongside the gritty, rainy physique of their homeland, as well as the taste and the abundance of their food and cultural feast.
There was a solemnity of remembrance in a grave loss at certain historical wrong turns, injustices or heavy tolls on the battlefield. The WSO opening chorale was simply magnificent in its tone, balance, dignity and omen. Their slow movement spoke for the vale strewn with the dead, their dance in the second movement bordered on a loose ceilidh, their finale a return to clan defense and victorious rejoicing. Throughout, the slightly outnumbered strings fought tooth and nail, against woodwinds and horns, fife and drum, led by WSO principal clarinetist Ian Scott – he of the same nationality.
So who was this Hilary Davan Wetton, bringing the cheers and cheers of the public to this sudden Scottish victory? A septuagenarian of British musical action and of particular English distinction in combat. Conductors don’t fade as they age: they grow. Founder of the city’s orchestra and the capital’s choir, a saber activist and defender of musical education for Everychild, he has already been director of the Classical Roadshow for 25 years and a long-time associate of the Orchester national des children.
He has been associate conductor of the London Mozart Players for 52 years. Guests with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Recently also with the Hanover Band period instrument orchestra. And ‘one of the highlights of my career’, St Matthew Passion with their own City of London Choir plus Chichester Choristers in Chichester Cathedral.
A shrewd concert programmer, lately combining Haydn’s masterpiece Late Masses with Mozart’s equally mature piano concertos in a series. The creator of RPO’s classic 2017 album, ‘The Nation’s Favorite Carols’, featuring the City of London Choir, which he founded and long-time directed. Currently by the way, this same year, these same forces released Nelson Mass and Haydn’s Mass in Time of War on the RPO label.
His directing action, more physically expansive than that of Gibbons, betrays Davan Wetton’s choral work in the high arms arched above his head, to summon the fullness of the singers placed behind and above the orchestra – the Sunday was for winds and brass sitting above the strings.
His long stick echoes his 60 hours of training as a conductor under Sir Adrian Boult – him of the long stick. His affinity with the LMP (Chris O’Neal of the WSO is also the main oboe of the LMP), he gently coincides with the characteristic method of the late LMP founder, Harry Blech, of removing the stick from his line of fire during quieter passages and to hold it in his left hand.
Other fruits of his own career can be found in Davan Wetton’s 2021 book ‘Reflections on Conducting’, his classic FM program ‘Masterclass’, his teaching the organ to comedian Jo Brand in ‘Play It Again’ on BBC1 , his British and American discussions conveying driving as a metaphor for management.
Moments before the start of the concert on Sunday, instead of the only pair of horns present in the five fabric-cut concerts since the lifting of the lock, the sight of four warm-ups was moving. The WSO’s Huntsmen and Huntswomen were expected to be in worrying double strength for the next three plays.
Paired in pairs, their power was vehement in the Count of Egmont’s doomed heroism of Flanders against the Spaniards, he was passionately impassioned in Bruch’s beloved Violin Concerto, then masterful and much more in the Symphony Scottish.
In the Bruch Concerto, 24-year-old Italian-Portuguese Cristian Grajner de Sa did not team up with Davan Wetton for the first time. A highly decorated graduate of the Royal College of Music, he is a young man whose experience of this universal favorite will gradually foster greater projection of his role and interpretation.
On Sunday, he expressed it quietly but directly with controlled emotional engagement, within the so often symphonically united force of the fiery orchestra in that definitive romantic outpouring, etched indelibly into the hearts of the world.
Masks more compulsory and spectators much more confident without them, the reopening of classical orchestra concerts, after having fallen behind the consumption of tickets for solo or chamber concerts, is in progress.
The next and final WSO concert of the season brings Dinara Klinton back to Worthing for her previously postponed appearance due to the pandemic in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Guest analyst for Radio 4, was a finalist in the 2015 Worthing’s Sussex International Piano Competition. She has since returned in a previous concerto action with the WSO and was the subject of an international interview concert.
WSO fans will be interested to hear his interpretation of this great work, followed by that of 2013 Competition winner Poom Prommachart, the Thai artist who, including in the Competition Grand Final, actually did it. played here twice. Klinton’s recording career is already flourishing, with recitations of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes and the complete piano sonatas of Prokofiev hailed in surprising quality by opinions that matter.
So it’s . . . Sunday, May 22 (Assembly Hall, 2:45 p.m.), “May Jubilations”: conductor John Gibbons, piano Dinara Klinton – Elgar, Imperial March; Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 3; Rossini, Guillaume Tell overture; Dvorak, Symphony No. 8.
And also . . . Saturday 14 May (Arundel Cathedral, 7.30pm) London-based Invicta Voices and cappella choir, singing for St Barnabas House and Worthing’s ‘Turning Tides’ charity for the homeless, a program including When David Heard of Eric Whiteacre and Lux Aeterna from Elgar.