The SSO started the evening with Brahms’ Academic festival overture – a popular classic, good to have the programme notes [and the conductor] remind us that this is a string of drinking songs. Darrell Davison gave us a reading that was on the tasteful side of beery but with plenty of swagger – comments such as ‘I don’t usually like Brahms’ from the interval chat.
Greig’s Peer Gynt music is even better known – less so the story behind it, again appropriate and revealing to be given some detail to put it in context. Some sumptuous and finely detailed playing in this. ‘Morning’ really nicely balanced to hear the voices in the woodwind – ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ plenty of menace from the bottom of the orchestra and a thrilling brassy conclusion. But the ‘Death of Åse’ was the revelation; even in the STAG acoustic a really beautiful sound and carefully phrased lyricism from the strings; a superb atmosphere generated and held.
The strings had more to do in the Mozart flute concerto that followed – hard with such a large section to keep the fine detail required for this sort of C18th writing, particularly when much of the flute writing is so low in its range. We need not have worried. Emma Halnan has an interestingly characterful and big enough flute sound to dismiss any concerns. This was a technically totally assured and musically thoughtful reading. I seldom in flute concertos think about how the soloist is handling dynamics – but this was different and engaging and kept us alert even in the passage work that is so much a part of the idiom. It seemed that she had really thought about how each phrase was to be handled, particularly in the slow movement where we get the very occasional moment of all three flutes together. Much audience talk about the quality of her playing and her management of that crucial element of rapport with the audience.
A tape of Dvorak’s 9th symphony ‘FROM the New World’ apparently went with Neil Armstrong on the first moon landing – another indication of the work’s huge popularity, if one were needed! That of course makes it a challenge to perform. However the Sevenoaks Symphony Orchestra were clearly on form and very well prepared with all the famous tunes and accompanying details confidently in place. I particularly enjoyed the attention to rhythmic detail in Davison’s vision of the piece, so many folk diverse elements are evident in this symphony, from Slav to Irish, Native American to Central European; all so evocative of the melting pot that was New York at the end of the C19th. It really does show when the core of an orchestra regularly rehearse and practice together as the SSO do – there’s a unanimity of approach that belies their amateur status. And the audience revelled in it.