Saturday 8th July 2017
Review by Berkeley Hill
Concerts by Folkestone Symphony (FHOS) have developed into eagerly-awaited events. The large audience in Holy Trinity Church completely filled the central nave, with the overspill resorting to seats in the north and south aisles. The pre-concert atmosphere was one of anticipation of the delights to come, well met by the performances that followed.
This local orchestra has developed into a proficient group capable of delivering fine performances of the standard repertory. The adjective ‘amateur’ should be avoided because its standards are such that it has attracted to its ranks more than a sprinkling of players who are or were professional musicians, to the great advantage of the overall sound. In particular, the quality of the strings is now quite remarkable, with a sound that is rich, deep and, when required, powerful and passionate. The result is that the overall balance is what one would expect to hear from a fully professional symphony orchestra, with the strings and other sections in the appropriate proportions within the tutti sound. Since I last heard Folkestone Symphony in this venue there have been other welcome improvements, most noticeably the better location (and hence audibility) of the timpani.
The highlight of the evening was the third item, Saint-Saens Symphony No 3 – the ‘Organ Symphony’. Here one could comfortably forget that this was a local band and simply accept the high standard and enjoy the music. The first movement was exciting and well-tuned. The start of the second was magical, underpinned by lowest note of Holy Trinity’s Walker organ; the strings for one moment lost precision in their imitative entries but this hardly mattered given their exemplary playing earlier. The tricky fast third movement, with its complex sparkling orchestration including added piano, was secure and its loud passages weighty. If the transition passage into the fourth movement lacked mystery, it was compensated by the explosive force of the organ’s entry, in which a good approximation of a French instrument was provided by Tim Parsons. The familiar ‘big tune’ sounded heroic and a triumphant brass-filled (but never swamped) conclusion was achieved. Overall this was an astoundingly accomplished performance. The audience’s enthusiastic applause was well deserved.
Earlier the strings and harp had shone in Vaughan-Williams Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus (a tune familiar to English folk-song enthusiasts), with the lower instruments particularly sonorous. All sections summoned up power and passion for the climaxes, which were most impressive.
The first half comprised Brahms’ Piano Concerto No 1. This is a tough assignment for any orchestra, particularly as Brahms writes in a way that often uses the woodwind as a choir, so that any imperfections in tuning – even of the odd note by a single player - are exposed cruelly. The balance with the majesterial soloist Amit Yahav was good; the warm sound of the church’s Blüthner piano was rather like instruments known by Brahms, less projecting than a new concert grand but probably more authentic. The first movement was the least happy of the evening, with woodwind tuning problems and a tendency for them and the horns to play too loudly in passages marked piano or quieter, with lines marked solo standing out too much. There should be greater attention to players blending within the overall sound of the orchestra, something that fully professional bands seem to manage. However, by the second movement things had settled down, with a glowing Adagio. In the third movement tuning was fine, even in the loud passages, balance was excellent, and the work came to a very satisfying close.
In short, Rupert Bond and his splendid group of orchestral players have made enormous progress and deliver concerts of a standard of which they should be proud. Congratulations.