United Kingdom Mozart, Grieg, Brahms: Ronan O’Hora (piano). Chipping Campden Festival Academy Orchestra / Thomas Hull (conductor), St James’ Church, Chipping Campden, 22.5.2014
Mozart: Symphony No 25 in G minor K183
Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor Op 16
Brahms: Symphony No 3 in F major Op 90
One of the major achievements of the Chipping Campden Music Festival is not so much its ability to attract the finest musicians from Britain and further afield to perform in this Cotswold town, but the opportunity it offers for up and coming musicians to showcase their skills. This summer there have been lunchtime recitals by such talents as Benjamin Appl, Anna Gogova, Lara Meld, the Manon Quartet and Total Brass Quartet, all very well received, while on three evenings in the second week audiences have flocked to hear the Festival’s own handpicked orchestra comprising established orchestral musicians and music graduates on the threshold of their musical careers. The success of this project has spun off a new initiative – a week long Academy Summer School for secondary school pupils in August.
Mozart was just 18 when he wrote his Symphony No 25, sometimes referred to as his “little” G minor symphony. In the 1770s the Sturm und Drang movement had taken hold and it finds expression in the restlessness and turbulence of this work. Thomas Hull was keen to instil a sense of drama and tension in the first movement which was well controlled and full of dynamic contrast. The strings seemed to perform particularly well led by Ruth Rogers whose beady eyes darted everywhere to make sure nobody fell out of step. The pleasant Andante offered a brief respite before the sombre minuet. The players responded well to the bouncy rhythms of the finale which bore an uncanny resemblance to Cy Coleman’s Rhythm of Life.
Tonight’s soloist, Ronan O’Hora had already made two appearances at the Festival on the previous Saturday when he gave a piano master class followed by a recital. Now his attention was focussed on the ever popular Grieg concerto which had attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd – which he did not disappoint. What particularly impressed in this performance was not so much the pianistic pyrotechnics (in the cascading introduction, for instance) as the lyricism and intimacy he brought to the work, aspects no doubt enhanced by the warm and friendly acoustic of St James’ Church. All sections of the orchestra were complicit in purveying this sense of well-being, most noticeably the lower strings which produced a glowing tone throughout. The muted violins opened the Adagio with a beautifully controlled, prayerful pianissimo which was followed by piano playing like silk thread interrupted by the occasional brief outburst. Mr O’Hora then became as agile as an Olympic athlete in the leaping dance of the finale until the flute changed the mood with a wistful folk melody which is later transformed into a triumphant hymn.
There is also a rich vein of lyricism and contentment in Brahms’ Third Symphony which concluded the concert which was clearly brought out in this finely nuanced performance. After the swirling joyous start Thomas Hull guided the orchestra through the complexities of the first movement with great care. The Adagio conveyed the impression of a lazy afternoon on the banks of the Wörthersee, where the composer was staying, and had a timeless quality. The slightly mournful but exquisite Scherzo which followed was imbued with a bitter-sweet quality – and once more the cellos acquitted themselves well. Hull truly energised his players in the finale which got off to a fiery start; the musicians clearly relished the challenge and brought the evening to an energetic and rousing conclusion.
The applause that greeted the performance was enthusiastic and prolonged. The CCFAO may not be the best orchestra in the world nor Mr Hull the most acclaimed conductor, but thanks to intensive and meticulous preparation together with their single-minded commitment these musicians – young and experienced alike – produced a musical experience which would bear comparison with those of more distinguished ensembles.