United Kingdom Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Bruch, Haydn. Gershwin: Liz Hanks (cello), The Endcliffe Orchestra / Martin Lightower; (conductor), St John’s Church, Blackstock Road, Sheffield, 17.1.2015 (JK)
Tchaikovsky: Overture Romeo & Juliet
Bruch: Kol Nidrei
Haydn: Symphony 104
Gershwin: An American in Paris
Reviewing an amateur orchestral performance is usually a difficult feat. Players are keen but rarely produce the music written by the composer. Audiences are enthusiastic supporters – and often family members – of the players. The conductor and leader (both professionals) work hard to turn their colleagues’ verve into music. Unfortunately, the verve frequently overtakes their technical capacity and the works chosen to play are often beyond their ability.
Nonetheless, this form of music making creates the unique opportunity for amateurs to taste repertoire from the inside. And tasting Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet can be an invigorating experience. The orchestra’s account sounded as if they really enjoyed the fast, loud sections. The slower, more introspective passages were marred by the normal, amateur orchestra problem of timekeeping with different players keeping to a different pulse to the conductor’s.
The loud fanfare that opened the concert was rousing enough to begin any concert with a brass section that was able to play with both conviction and accuracy. However, the highlight of the concert was undoubtedly the performance of Liz Hanks. She is a remarkable cellist able to produce a liquid tone from her instrument that well reflected the mood of Kol Nidrei. Imaginatively presented, this work began with all the lights in the hall being extinguished before the Aramaic Kol Nidrei was pronounced by a member of the orchestra; followed by another providing the English translation. This extraordinary text almost certainly originated from the Jewish communities whose members were often forced to foreswear their religion and take an oath that they would adopt the religion of those who held swords to their throats. In their hearts they did not really adopt Islam or Christianity so, just before the Yom Kippur service, they would pronounce that these oaths, taken under duress, were null and void. So the tone of the Kol Nidrei performance, when performed with conviction, reflects the despair of those forced to make such a statement as well as the relief that shaking off the shackles of these false oaths can bring. With the minimal orchestral input given by Max Bruch, this work is much better suited to an amateur performance. But to make it work, it requires a soloist with subtlety of expression, a controlled passion and ringing sound as the cello aspires into its upper register. The orchestra were fortunate in having Liz Hanks performing as she demonstrated all those abilities as she took the audience through the Kol Nidrei journey.
The second half of the concert began with Haydn’s London Symphony. This was a comparatively painful experience after so moving an ending to the first half. The orchestra could certainly have performed this much better. The number of wrong entries and out of tune notes spoiled the music: and the inability of some to watch the conductor left them playing out of time. Fortunately, the influx of brass and percussion players for the Gershwin ensured that any misplaced notes by the regular orchestra were blotted out. The solo trumpet, violin and tuba parts were well executed so the concert finished with a pleasing bang before the audience made off into the night-time snow. Happily, the memory of Liz Hanks’ performance was what accompanied us home.