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PROM 66: Copland Fanfare for the Common Man Berlioz
Symphonie fantastique Vaughan Williams Symphony No.6 in E minor Juilliard and Royal Academy of Music Orchestras / Sir Colin Davis, conductor (ED)


If Coplandís Fanfare for the Common Man proclaimed anything on this occasion it was that this would be a no-holds-barred concert. From the first grand timpani strikes (from Helen Yates) and the brass fanfares, quality of playing and exceptional textural blending was immediately in evidence. Indeed, one might have though this orchestra, drawing its players from both institutions, had been playing together for years.


Vaughan Williamsí Sixth Symphony is a troubled and problematic work, utterly removed from the idyllic world that some might assume his music to occupy solely. Cast in four linked movements, the structure is vast, demanding and unremitting, at least until the final movement, which is to be played pianissimo throughout.Itís a work that demands a forthright approach and that is exactly what Davis gave it. The orchestral response to the challenge facing them was nothing short of committed and the results visceral.


With massed strings playing as one with pliant tone, underscored by a particularly resonant double bass section (12 players) one could not help but be impressed by the professionalism of the performance that the Juilliard /RAM Orchestra turned in. Yet again the brass made their presence felt, though a stately passage contrasting harps and violins also caught the ear. The moderato was particularly nervy at the start, as it should be, and great waves of menacing rhythmic crescendi built with seemingly limitless power, were played with precision and attack. Alice Pullenís cor anglais solo proved aptly brooding before the scherzo exploded onto the scene.


Within the scherzo several features proved notable: a malicious saxophone solo from Hannah Marcinowicz competed with elegiac playing from the horn section, and texturally the harps and pianissimo violins against timpani displayedgreat sensitivity. Similar sensitiveness was to be a much required quality for the Epilogue: moderato final movement, played entirely piano. This created a scene as if on a foggy night, where phrases drifted mysteriously in and out of earshot. The contrast, both in performance and compositional terms, after the three barnstorming previoud movements proved eerie and properly haunting.


Also containing more than itís fair share of menace, though not as relentlessly given, is Berliozí Symphonie fantastique. Itís a score that offers any orchestra the chance to really show its mettle Ė and for this orchestra palying it must have been an experience they will long remember. There are few, if any, current equals to Sir Colin when it comes to Berlioz - with four recordings and countless performances of the score behind him he has nothing to prove- yet he treated this occasions with all the seriousness one could ask for.

But the Symphonie fantastique is a work suited to the eagerness of youth too, telling of a sensitive young artist's passion for a mysterious love, and of opium-fuelledimagination running riot. With heartfelt conducting translated into playing of vivid immediacy, these programmatic aspects were brought amply to life.

In purely music terms, all five movements carried equal weight and meaning through the sensitive performances they received. If the March to the Scaffold and Dream of a Sabbath Night proved particularly forwardly dramatic it was due in equal measure to composition, interpretation and execution. However, the more refined inner beauties of the Ball scene or the Scene in the Country were not neglected either ; the Ball practically ran away with itself in a dizzy whirl of ever more eccentric dance rhythms, and the Country Scene portrayed a true picture of idyllic bliss, until shadowy love appeared once more.

Before the event, some might have thought it a less than well calculated risk to mix two student bodies to form this orchestra.To my ears, they were every bit as proficient as a fully professional group, and indeed I have heard at least one professional orchestra this season who they would easily knock flat in any contest. Sir Colinís presence and ever sure instincts served to the students well to bring out their full potential.

Evan Dickerson




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