The Petersfield Orchestra opened their concert on Thursday with a performance of Dvorak’s Symphonic Variations, a work rarely performed these days. The work was written in 1877 and is a set of 27 variations on a theme by the composer. They are delightfully varied in keys, time signatures and orchestration, but are there just a few too many? Robin Browning conducted a performance of great freshness and warmth which displayed Dvorak’s mastery of the orchestra to the full.

Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto is probably the most frequently performed of all piano concertos. It was written in 1901 following a bout of depression after the failure of the first performance of the composer’s first symphony. The work is masterpiece with its plethora of memorable, haunting tunes and some beautiful solos for horn, flute and clarinet. The young pianist, Erdem Misirlioglu, is a truly intelligent musician with a prodigious technique.

The opening eight, bell-like, solemn chords, building from pianissimo to fortissimo are truly memorable. What a pity that the excellent soloist had to play them on such an unresponsive instrument, which lacked sonority in the lower register and warmth in the upper register. The virtuoso performance was full of youthful freshness, poetry and refinement. The technical demands of the work held no fears for this pianist. The Andante was most persuasive with lyrical phrasing and a natural response to the ebb and flow of the melodic lines. The exciting Finale was scintillating with unforced bravura and reached a passionate climax. The orchestra were exemplary accompanists.

Vaughan Williams’ 5th Symphony is a masterpiece. It was written in 1943 amidst the atrocities and turmoil of war. It is “a beatific vision of peace and ultimate harmony” as Piers Burton-Page so rightly says in his excellent programme notes. The performance given by the Petersfield Orchestra was utterly enthralling and intensely moving. The precise shading of dynamics and phrasing was excellent. The tension was sustained throughout the longest and most hushed passages. Robin Browning built the great climaxes with care and purpose. Phrases and tempi were moulded affectionately, always sounding spontaneous. The climax of the slow movement was sublime and built with shattering power, and the gentle urgency of the Passacaglia and the stillness of the epilogue were breathtaking.

The orchestra were superb with some glorious, rich, string sounds and some beautiful woodwind playing.

This was a spacious, concentrated reading from Robin Browning, which combined evocative atmosphere with emotional involvement. The warmth and poetry of the work was splendidly caught.

Thank you Petersfield Orchestra and Robin Browning: this performance will long remain in the memory of this reviewer.

Ann Pinhey, Petersfield Post, 14 March 2013

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