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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Mozart: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Nick Davies, Yvette Bonner (soprano), Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple, North Devon, 16.06.2006 (BK)

Overture: The Marriage of Figaro

'Voi che sapete' from The Marriage of Figaro
Eine kleine Nachtmusik in G major K525
Exsultate, Jubilate in F major, K165

Overture: Don Giovanni
Symphony No. 41 in C, 'Jupiter', K551



Queen's Theatre - Barnstaple



People suffer for their art in rural communities. In North Devon, 30 to 50 miles from the nearest motorway, hearing a professional orchestral concerts usually means a very long journey. Even then, the touring orchestras visiting Exeter or Bristol (a one or two hundred mile round trip from Barnstaple or Ilfracombe) tend to limit themselves to 'popular' programmes. No-one can blame them; finance is a fact of life and a reasonable audience is a key to survival.


Concerts by decent sized professional orchestras are such a rarity in North Devon that they're almost always sell-outs, and this one was no exception. Fielding about fifty players on this occasion - the maximum for the Queen's Theatre stage - RPO brought a typically popular programme to an enthusiastic local audience.


The concert was part of North Devon Festival - an annual event staging a wide range of amateur and professional activities to celebrate both arts and crafts. As main participants in the festival programme, the area's two theatres - the Queen's in Barnstaple and the Landmark in Ilfracombe - play significant roles in the larger scale musical events, since they are the only venues big enough to accommodate an orchestra. More importantly though, the theatre group's commitment to concerts is both consistent and laudable: they're bringing the Philharmonia to Barnstaple in September with a Tchaikovsky programme that includes the fourth symphony.


By the highest concert-hall standards, excellent (as they say) wasn't quite the word for every aspect  of this RPO concert. On the other hand, given the cramped venue, the warm weather and the distance that the players and soloist must have travelled, the concert was far better than merely acceptable, especially in the second half. Although initially Nick Davies seemed a little tentative both in the Figaro overture and in the Eine kleine Nachtmusik, where a fairly stolid beat and a limited dynamic range robbed the music of some of its excitement, the rest of the concert was nicely engaging. Yvette Bonner sang 'Voi che sapete' touchingly and made a fine job of Exsultate, Jubilate enjoying herself enormously and delighting the audience at the same time, especially in the Alleluia.


After the interval, the overture to Don Giovanni had exactly the right mixture of light and darkness and the orchestral sound was generally much more expressive. The 'Jupiter' symphony was delivered with all of the RPO's familiar expertise: it was pacy and propulsive where necessary, felt rhythmically more flexible and was played with excellent ensemble throughout. The andante cantabile theme was brought out in all its glory despite a modest number of first violins and there was a buoyant long line to the menuetto movement. The molto allegro finale was every bit as lively as it should be, positively jubilant in fact, with plenty of exuberant grandeur and appropriately festive trumpets.


This concert made me admire the professionalism and resilience of today's musicians even more than I usually do. Everyone worked hard to overcome less than ideal performing conditions and in the end delivered performances of which they could justly be proud. 'Proper job,' as we say here in dear old Deb'n.


Bill Kenny

North Devon Festival web site


Queen's Theatre and Landmark Theatre  web site

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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)