United Kingdom Handel, Casanova, Mozart, Haydn: Leland Chen (violin), Ten Tors Orchestra / Simon Ible (conductor), The Minster Church of St Andrew, Plymouth , 4.10.2014 (PRB)
Handel: Concerto Grosso in B flat major, Op 3 No 1
Anandi Sala Casanova: The Hidden Sea
Mozart: Violin Concerto No 3 in G major, K216
Handel: Entry of the Queen of Sheba
Haydn: Symphony No 85 in B flat major, ‘La Reine’
Ten Tors Orchestra, in whatever configuration it chooses, has got through a lot of different music and genres since its formation in 1998.But over the years it’s with the music of Haydn, Mozart and their contemporaries that it seems best at home, and really comes into its own.
Finishing its opening concert in the new Classical Masters Series with Haydn’s La Reine Symphony simply said it all. From the sparkling and articulate string playing, such well-behaved horns despite the often high tessitura, and the quite superb contribution from solo woodwind – oboe and bassoon in particular – this was certainly a reading of real quality and poise. Always a finely-balance sound, and aided by the venue’s excellent acoustic, the orchestral forces – 6 first and 4 second violins, 3 violas and cellos respectively and double bass, with flutes, oboes, bassoons and horns in pairs – felt ideally proportioned for the music on offer. Conductor, and Director of Music at Peninsula Arts, Simon Ible in fact always appears to have a sixth sense where both programming and resources are concerned and where, of course in the latter, financial constraints can play a not insignificant part.
Mozart’s G major Violin Concerto similarly brought out the very best from the orchestra, as they accompanied Leland Chen’s top-notch performance. Not only was his playing matchless, but his genial and easy-going demeanour, so perfectly in tune with the music, permeated and inspired the whole ensemble throughout. In each of the work’s three movements, Chen proved an ideal protagonist for this frequently-played concerto. In the opening Allegro, for example, with its main theme devised a few months earlier for use by Mozart in his comic opera, ‘Il re pastore’, Chen captured so well the essential light-hearted nature of the writing, while demonstrating a gloriously rounded tone in the central Adagio. In the somewhat eclectic Rondeau finale he moved seamlessly from each disparate section into the next, to round the work off with great panache.
The Hidden Sea was an unscheduled addition to the advertised concert programme. Ten Tors Orchestra is the resident ensemble of Peninsula Arts at Plymouth University, and the piece was, in fact, part of a final-year degree submission at the university by recent graduate Anandi Sala Casanova, an emerging young composer and former student of Catalan descent, born and raised in a multicultural town in Southern India.
The work itself is an extended piece for string ensemble, and while perhaps conceived as part of an exam portfolio, it still sat comfortably with the rest of the programme, both in terms of the pure technical quality of the writing, as well as the intrinsic musical effect. As with the vast majority of modern works, the composer feels, or indeed often has an obligation to ‘explain’ what they have written. Suffice it to say that, according to the composer’s programme note, The Hidden Sea ‘stands for the beauty and importance of nature in our lives, while the concept of Organic Minimalism reflects finding a balance in the world of today in order to work towards a sustainable future’. Introducing the work, Ible did allude to a further possibly helpful explanation, the essence of which again is part of Casanova’s programme note, ‘The mysterious and melancholic music was inspired by various experiences and memories of the Plymouth Hoe sea front: musical swell recalls the waves and contrasting dynamic levels reflect both calm and agitated states of the sea’.
Be all this as it may, Ten Tors leader Malcolm Latchem and the string section fashioned some attractive textures and sonorities in an eminently tuneful piece, even if the teeniest bit of judicious pruning might have added to its effectiveness overall, and staying power in terms of its listeners.
The evening’s opening gambit was Handel’s Concerto Grosso in B flat, Op 3 No 1, which didn’t seem as relaxed or effective as the rest of the programme; nor was there quite the same high degree of precision playing as elsewhere. In terms of balance, too, the addition of harpsichord continuo, while theoretically adding to the ‘authenticity’ of the sound, didn’t really come off in performance, its contribution effectively swamped in the middle of the ensemble.
But while the initial Handel offering didn’t quite set the world alight, conductor Ible and his ever-willing band of performers more than made up for this with a quite scintillating rendition of the composer’s ever-popular Entrance of the Queen of Sheba, where again the woodwind contribution was quite exemplary.
It was really good to see Ible back ‘on his feet’ once more, following an unfortunate broken ankle incurred during the summer, even if the temporary provision of a dedicated conductor’s chair is needed during the subsequent rehabilitation period. Despite the obvious slight movement restrictions imposed, Ible’s powers of direction and moreover pure enthusiasm thankfully weren’t diminished one iota.
If only a few more had been there in the audience, though, to enjoy all this first-class playing on their very doorstep.
Philip R Buttall