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Seen and Heard Concert Review

Elgar and Shostakovich: Southampton Concert Orchestra/Paul Ingram (conductor), Shelley Payne (cello) Thornden Hall, Chandlers Ford, Southampton 31.03.2007 (PCW)


Over the years I have heard some excellent performances of major works by amateur bands such as the Slaithwaite Philharmonic, Chesterfield Symphony and Hitchin Symphony Orchestras. With this programme the Southampton Concert Orchestra posed themselves their biggest challenge yet: Shostakovich’s 7th symphony – the Leningrad – preceded by Elgar’s Cello Concerto. In writing this review I have endeavoured to remain unbiased by my wife’s presence in the cello section.

In the concerto, soloist Shelley Payne immediately established her authority in the exposed opening of the work and proceeded to give a lyrical performance. Relatively restrained emotionally in the outer movements, she scampered most effectively in the scherzo and refused to wallow in the adagio. After the odd early blip, the orchestra supported her well with excellent rapport between soloist and conductor. The performance was very well-received but Shelley’s evening was far from over – being leader of the orchestra’s cello section she had to return and meet the considerable demands of the second half.

Leningrad symphony was mostly written in the city whilst it was under siege by the Nazis in 1941. This was a work in which, for once, his artistic objectives and the goals of the Soviet authorities coincided. Based on the key of C major, in four movements and lasting over 70 minutes it makes great demands on the performers. It also requires very large forces, the orchestra being bolstered by numerous extra players and, having gathered together no fewer than eight double-basses, they only just managed to squeeze onto the stage.

Conductor Paul Ingram has a particular interest in Shostakovich and has previously performed the 5th and 10th symphonies with the orchestra. Almost before the applause had ceased he launched them into the assertive opening, keeping the structure of the work firmly under control throughout. In the opening movement, the famous repeated theme depicting the Nazi invasion made a powerful impression. Initially the balance between violins and side-drum was imperfect heard from the back of the hall – the first couple of plucked iterations were inaudible. But this was a small flaw and amply compensated by the very steady pacing which was then achieved. All sections of the orchestra contributed effectively to this challenging section which built to a truly frightening climax. The playing of leader Cerys Emmett was notable and her first movement solo came off well.

After the very long opening movement, Ingram did not allow the tension to slip in the remaining movements. After an often thought-provoking intermezzo, there was much feeling put into in the adagio. This leads directly into the finale which was properly unsettling before reaching a tremendous climax in the coda, as some of the material from the very opening returns in triumph.

With this highly-committed performance of the
Leningrad symphony, the Southampton Concert Orchestra has moved onto a new level. A work like this illustrates well the difference between listening to recorded and live music. It is easy nowadays to put on a CD of a world-class orchestra with a top conductor onto hi-fi equipment and not stray from the living room. But hearing this live well played by a very decent amateur orchestra remains a greater musical experience.


Patrick C Waller


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, one of the longest established live music review web sites on the Internet, publishes original reviews of recitals, concerts and opera performances from the UK and internationally. We update often, and sometimes daily, to bring you fast reviews, each of which offers a breadth of knowledge and attention to performance detail that is sometimes difficult for readers to find elsewhere.

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Contributors: Marc Bridle, 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, John Leeman, Sue Loder,Jean Martin, 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, Raymond Walker, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)

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