Saturday morning was a first for the Henley Symphony Orchestra when they took to Henley Festival’s floating stage.
The varied programme was well chosen with music recognised by a lot of the audience (murmurings of ‘So that’s what it’s called’ could be heard).
The setting was blissful, and maybe blistering for some of the orchestra sitting at the front of the stage, despite the gentle winds ruffling some scores. The professional attention to the acoustics paid off and the quality of sound, at least in the grandstand, was excellent. From the bold opening with Dvořák’s Carnival Overture to the closing Tchaikovsky’s Ceremonial Overture (1812), the audience loved it.
In between these two lively overtures there were plenty of contrasts which were splendidly captured by the orchestra. Offenbach’s Barcarolle and Elgar’s Nimrod were both played sensitively, the harp adding to the watery image of the Barcarolle. The syncopated rhythms in Marquez’s Danzon fitted the heat of the day and the ‘taxi horns’ clearly heard among the jazz and Parisian cacophony in Gershwin’s American in Paris seemed to chime with our times.
The magisterial Walton’s Crown Imperial (written for the coronation of Edwards VIII which of course never happened) was played with great gusto. At times, the orchestra had their work cut out but throughout the concert they were able to convey a feeling of fun and love for the music they played.
Musical director and conductor, Ian Brown, a consummate musician, not only works hard to keep the orchestra together, varying pace, texture, light and shade, but also persuades a wonderful array of super-stars to play with the orchestra. On Saturday he welcomed the stunning violinist, Min Kym. The orchestral strings shimmered behind Méditation from Thais (Massenet) which Kym played with equal measure of precision and feeling. Sarasate’s Zapateado followed, a fiendishly fast and furious piece presenting HSO with a real challenge to keep up with the nimble-fingered Kym. “No concert is complete without Bach”, she said and we were treated to the Siciliano from Bach’s Sonata no 1 in G minor, as an encore, played beautifully, of course.
The celebratory 1812 overture, complete with well-timed ‘cannon fire’, ended the concert and the standing ovation signified Henley Symphony Orchestra’s conquest of their audience.