Review of the Peebles Orchestra concert by Kenneth McAllister
WHAT great conductor Robert Dick and the Peebles Orchestra brought to the city last Saturday night at Leckie Church.
A welcome return to normal after the last two years of confinement. This church has excellent acoustics and the game was much enjoyed by a grateful audience.
Before the start of the performance, Robert Dick paid a brief tribute to three former Peebles musicians who have died over the past two years. The conductor for 30 years, Malcolm Porteus, and Robert’s first mentor. Also two violinists Eric Marchant and Barbara Greenhill. All had been mainstays of this orchestra for many decades.
An evening of two Beethovens. The overture to Prometheus started the concert. We were greeted by the slow, firm, wonderful opening chords, the score immediately recognized as its own.
Violins with quick and delicate articulation opened the Allegro, superb pairings of woodwinds, especially clarinets and bassoons blending together, like the real Viennese sound. A great start, judged perfectly, we were already excited hearing a live performance on our doorstep.
Then we heard Donizetti’s Sinfonia for Winds, a charming serenade. Always a pleasure for wind groups to perform. It was a perfectly balanced performance from the talented directors. A good plan to contrast this with the more serious work.
Then came soloist Sarah Chapman playing Gerald Finzi’s Concerto for Clarinet and Strings. She’s an accomplished player, and it’s a great lyrical and technically demanding piece.
She produced a dark, warm sound in the instrument’s expressive bass, and much-needed brightness.
The part doesn’t lie easily under the fingers, however, it mastered the trying sections with ease. Highlights included beautifully modulated strings taking over from the soloist, beautiful string pizzicati, especially from the double bass, with dark gems from the violas.
The sweet epilogue of the last bars of the slow movement produced sumptuous playing from all.
The style is very close to mid-20th century and deeply mournful, but the crisp, lively clarinet tune of the last movement is pure bliss, Finzi roaming his Wiltshire countryside beaming!
Congratulations to Sarah and the strings of Claire Taylor in the face of a demanding score. Robert Dick balanced everything with elegant mastery.
After the intermission we had the giant Beethoven, an epic rendition of his “Eroica” Symphony, which was conducted from memory.
Many orchestral highlights, powerful and sensitive strings, chamber strings, glorious wind solos and duets, Hester Lean’s horn soaring like an eagle above the orchestra in the recap of the first movement.
A beautiful sincere oboe in the minor key Funeral March, what a wonderful and resonant double bass! When he switched to the major key, the oboe, giving us hope, it was like the sun had come out. Tremendous soft, staccato strings opened the Scherzo, Beethoven loved the rhythmic drive and syncopation, a Viennese trait.
Congratulations to the horns in the difficult trio. A thunderous opening on the theme and variations of the last movement. I must praise the endurance of the orchestra throughout this long symphony. It is an extremely demanding piece.
Morag Stevenson’s flute and Aled Owen’s bassoon, leading us all perfectly into the final bars of the full orchestra, with the trumpets to top it all off.