There were almost no empty seats at Petersfield Orchestra’s summer concert in the Festival Hall. This was hardly surprising the whole evening had everything going for it.

The programme included two definite crowd pleasers and a lesser known musical gem. It was the newish conductor Mark Biggins’ fourth performance with the ensemble. Helen Purchase, a lovely, strong violinist was the leader. She’s also a mountaineer, runner, kayaker, cross country skier and long distant runner. She’s classical music’s answer to Lara Croft.

Among the fifty seven players on stage there were lots top class performers, many of whom also play with several orchestras. No wonder musicians from London, Hampshire and Sussex are virtually queueing up to perform with this happy, high-reputation ensemble.

First up was Rossini’s Thieving Magpie. He knew how to write a terrific curtain-raiser. From the clever opening of pianissimo drum rolls to the final triumphant ending chords, the orchestra played the piece with absolute gusto.

Next was Max Bruch’s Concerto for clarinet, viola and orchestra. Bruch was elderly when he wrote this piece for his son Max Felix Bruch. Because Bruch senior married a singer half his age, his son was only twenty two but a gifted clarinettist.

Sporting his trademark pony tail, Rob Blanken showed his prowess as a single reed player while Malcolm Porter shone as a master string player. Both instruments have almost identical ranges. But the clarinet has a greater projection so the viola player has to work harder.

The beautiful duet passages were a joy. Malcolm played the tricky arpeggios and musical flights of fancy extremely well too. Rob and the orchestra held back but perhaps the viola needed an even quieter backing. Maybe Bruch intended his son’s clarinet to have pride of place. Irrespective, Rob and Malcolm did a great job.

Top of the bill was Beethoven’s stupendous Third Symphony, the Eroica, a milestone in musical history and a real game-changer. The orchestra played as if it were twice the size. The funereal passages had real gloomy foreboding like Beethoven expressing his angst for the future of the Austrian Empire. Elsewhere there was powerful tranquillity. Another section was reminiscent of Tom and Jerry tiptoeing. The grand march was grandiose. Overall it was a knockout performance.

The orchestra’s next concert in on 15 November 2018. Holst Elgar and Vaughan Williams are on the menu. Bring it on.

Stuart Reed

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