There was ‘standing room only’ in St Mary’s Church on Saturday evening, where the Henley Symphony Orchestra was presenting their Autumn concert – a programme of much-loved music by Mendelssohn and Rodrigo.
The concert opened with Mendelssohn’s Overture To the Fair Melusine, and the orchestra was able to demonstrate their ability to ‘tell a story’ through the music with the use of light and shade in the loud and soft passages. There was plenty of scope for the strings to create the desired atmosphere, while the delightful sound of the cor anglais soared over the ensemble. Jacques Cohen’s conducting was very precise throughout and was a pleasure to watch.
The second piece was Rodrigo’s Zarabande Lejana, originally written for solo guitar but later arranged for strings. Here there was scope for the whole orchestra to create an ethereal sound which was very beautiful.
The highlight of the first part of the concert was the Concierto d’Aranjuez played by the classical guitarist Craig Ogden. In the first movement the clear sound of the guitar filled the church space, while the orchestra accompanied perfectly, the tone of the cellos and woodwind being particularly pleasing.
The second movement was more relaxed and the soloist was able to demonstrate his dexterity and absolute mastery of his instrument, while the orchestra coped well with the many difficult passages and timings.
The third movement was challenging, with its changing timings, but the orchestra created the desired atmosphere, while allowing the guitar to show off its virtuosity. There was great applause at the end of the Concierto and Craig Ogden was persuaded to give an encore.
He played the Fandango from Rodrigo’s Three Spanish Pieces which, while very beautiful, was difficult to listen to at times, as many chords were discordant and one wondered how they would resolve. However, they made sense at last in a clever way and the audience loved it.
After the interval the orchestra played Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 ‘Italian’. The first movement set off at a cracking pace and the conductor’s expressive gestures left the orchestra in no doubt as to his intentions and requirements. They really came together in the second and third movements and gave a very sympathetic performance with great ensemble playing.
The fourth movement was taken at a great pace and if it was a case of ‘saving the best to the last’, this proved the point! With the precise conducting, it was very exciting and the audience loved it.
Altogether a very polished performance by orchestra and soloist – yet another demonstration of how lucky we are to have such music in Henley.
By Margaret Husband