Concert Review: University of Nottingham Philharmonia Orchestra (28.10.12)

The University Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Tilbrook, presented a classical repertoire, including Mozart, Milhaud and Beethoven, in addition to a new composition by Alexander Kolassa. The performance took place in the Great Hall, at the University of Nottingham.

The evening’s programme commenced with the Overture of Mozart’s ‘Turkish’ opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The subject of the opera explores Belmonte, and his attempts to rescue his love, Konstanze, from the clutches of Pasha Selim. This rich, cultural story is equally reflected through Mozart’s orchestration in which rhythmic drive and melodic elegance dance between the performers. Tilbrook certainly captured the essence of the ‘Turkish’ flare within the performance, although the dynamic contrast and clarity was not always successfully achieved in the venue, in particular the crisp articulation of the woodwind. Mozart also wrote exotically for the use of percussion within this overture, however at times, the percussion dominated the foreground a little too much, in particular within climatic passages.

“Every work has its first premiere”, announced Tilbrook in his pre-performance speech of Alexander Kolassa’s Hoquet Perpétuel. Kolassa’s contemporary composition aims to explore the idea behind the distribution and dissemination of musical material throughout the orchestra. Overall, the piece was successful in its first public performance. The material presented in the beginning of the piece was unrecognisable at the closure and strong rhythmic interplay was certainly achieved in the woodwind section. In contrast, the strings required more confidence in their performance, as the tone was not always well supported. The harsh dissonances, notably between the trumpets and horns, were not always as effective as intended due to the resonating acoustics. Although challenging, to the listener, Kolassa has been successful in composing appropriately for the intended performing ensemble.

Commissioned as a ballet, Milhaud’s La création du monde explores African creation mythology. Composed in the jazz idiom style encountered in New York, Milhaud’s jazz style is obviously present within, as well as brass melodies, Latin American rhythms and rich, romantic orchestration. This composition showcased a range of talents within the orchestra and required diverse, versatile musicianship to successfully perform this piece of programmatic music. Balance was a small issue throughout, with the Brass section sometimes overly loud, while the double bass could not be heard at a moment during the solo passage. Overall however, this composition was a strong piece in the performance repertoire.

The evening was rounded off with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 (‘Pastoral’).  As one of the central classical works in the symphonic repertoire, Symphony No.6 is reminiscent and evocative towards its depiction of nature. Strong phrasing opened the first movement and the material was instantly recognizable to the musicians, who flourished with such knowledge. There were moments in exposed string sections where pitch accuracy was not convincing, however the first desk violins certainly maintained the pace of the section. A strong woodwind section added composure and melodic interest to passages, in addition to the solid collaborative tone of the violas and the dramatic impact of the percussion.

A special commendation to Cerian Brewer (Clarinet), Frances Hall (Flute) and Katie Potterell (Violin) for their performance in Symphony No.6, and Dianne Muir for her guest appearance on Alto Saxophone in La création du monde.

With a near-full capacity venue, the concert provided an interesting, varied programme; in which the Milhaud and Beethoven were notably impressive.  However, I felt the venue itself was a limitation to the performance, suppressing passages of music due to the resonating acoustics. Nevertheless, this concert was particularly enjoyable and the future performance by the University Philharmonia alongside University Choir in a Russian programmed concert at the Albert Hall on 1st December is strongly recommended.

Jonathan Newsome


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