Mumbles Orchestra Flies the Musical Flag for Swansea

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Glazunov, Sibelius, Kalinnokov: Melinda Stocker (violin), Mumbles Symphony Orchestra / David John (conductor), Bishop Gore School, Swansea, 26.10.2013, (NR)

Glazunov: ‘Autumn’, from The Seasons
Sibelius: Violin Concerto
Kalinnikov: Symphony no. 1

With the Brangwyn Hall undergoing refurbishment, there isn’t the normal Swansea Festival this year with its three or four international touring orchestras, so the Friends of the Festival commissioned instead a fund-raising performance by the Mumbles Symphony Orchestra in a local school hall with a reasonably clear acoustic. I’m sure they’re glad they did, as this now-mature orchestra was on absolutely top form, a full complement of cellos and basses in particular providing a newly rich depth to the sound, while the slightly depleted woodwinds were as sensitive as ever. It is truly remarkable what David John manages to conjure from his 55-strong outfit on the strength of minimal rehearsal time, and the sense now, after eight or nine concerts over the last few years, is that the musicians are becoming more and more accustomed to and supportive of each other.

So in the Glazunov ballet music there was great bounce in the fast sections and a lovely sweeping arch to the central slow movement. Of course it helps any orchestra, let alone a semi-professional group like this, to have soloists of the quality John succeeds in securing, and the Swiss-Australian violinist Melinda Stocker more than upheld his tradition. She played the Sibelius concerto with a magnificent poise and command, nothing histrionic or merely effective, the span of the work continuously in view, the technical difficulties negotiated with movingly modest nonchalance. The balance of soloist and ensemble never faltered. As was the case with Kristine Balanas, who played the Brahms Violin Concerto with the MSO last year, it was salutary to be reminded how many wonderfully gifted and accomplished musicians there are out there who somehow haven’t yet had the exposure their merits deserve, and what a marvellous service to music orchestras like the MSO provide in giving such accomplishments a chance to be heard.

The band’s own merits were equally well displayed in their reprise of the First Symphony of Tchaikovsky’s protégé Kalinnikov, which they played last year also, and are well on the way to making their signature work. It’s charmingly tuneful, atmospheric, dynamic and ebullient, it makes very satisfying use of cyclical form, and it ought to be better known. The brass outbursts in the finale were thrilling, the oboe line in the second movement irresistible. The evening would have been a credit to – indeed a highlight of – a ‘real’ Swansea Festival.

Neil Reeve


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