There is definitely something to be said for an evening of culture and entertainment. A few weeks ago I went with Phill to St Botolph’s Church in Colchester to listen to, amongst other things, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Phill wrote a summary of the concert on his blog, so I won’t bore you with details, but we both really enjoyed the evening. To follow that, Phill and Phil took Ellie and I to Ipswich last night to hear the Wolsey Orchestra playing music by various Russian composers.
The concert was at the Corn Exchange, which I hadn’t been to before, and we were sat up in the balcony, but the acoustics were very good and we heard everything very well. The orchestra looked and sounded very professional indeed, and the conductor too was very energetic and fun to watch.
The first piece was Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Russian Easter Festival Overture’, which I don’t think any of us knew, and it was very good. I think the only problem I had was that we were so far away from the orchestra that I had difficulty locating instruments by their sound – I like to look at each instrument as they play their part, and it took me a while to learn where all the instruments were so that I could look at them when their turn came. I’m not sure if it was me or the effect of the acoustics, but I couldn’t pin down exactly where the sound was coming from very easily. Still, the balance of the orchestra was very good, and the music was interpreted very well.
The second piece was without a doubt my favourite of the evening – Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no.2 in C minor. I’m a big fan of Rachmaninov, and I think it was this item alone that sold the concert to me in the first place. In fact, I think the appreciation of Rachmaninov is a genetic trait in my side of the family, clearly visible tracing back through my Dad and my Grandpa. I just love his approach to melody, his use of dissonance and accidentals, and the way his harmonies flow naturally yet unusually. The young man playing the piano at this concert was Erdem Misirlioglu, and was superb. Unfortunately we couldn’t see his hands from where we were, which was a shame, but we could see his face and that had plenty of expression in it too. I don’t think the piano was quite loud enough, and struggled at times to be heard over the orchestra – the final chords of the last movement particularly sounded like the orchestra was holding back so as not to drown out the piano, which was a shame. He could really have done with a Steinway, he would certainly have done it justice. The concerto itself is one I’m fairly familiar with, and it’s beautiful – soaring melodies, warm harmonies, crunchy dissonances, bucketloads of expression and emotion. The piano part was fiendishly complex, and to my surprise so was the french horn part – I have never before heard a french horn play quite so fast! It was truly awesome, and I enjoyed every note.
After the interval the orchestra played Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘The Snow Maiden’ Suite. I have to admit I wasn’t all that inspired by it, despite the orchestra’s rendition of it. That was followed by Stravinsky’s ‘The Firebird’ Suite. That too was, I felt, not as impressive as the Rachmaninov, but wasn’t a bad end to the concert. Ellie particularly enjoyed the Firebird though, and no doubt would appreciate the ballet version of it too.
Overall it was a wonderful night out on the town, and all four of us really enjoyed the chance to soak up the culture. If I had to be critical, I would say that there were only three things that let the performance down. One was the piano, which was too quiet, and a couple of the high notes were ever so slightly out of tune (not really noticeable to most people, but I was particularly sensitive to pitch that evening). The lead clarinet didn’t sound too brilliant either; that’s not a reflection on the clarinetist herself, I’ve no doubt of her ability, but the sound it was creating was rather plasticy. I’m not sure if that was the instrument itself, or the reed, or the acoustics of the hall. The lead cellist muffed a couple of notes in her solos too, which was a shame.
Other than that it was superb, and I would definitely be interested in seeing them again. Actually, that was something that was pointed out as we were driving home – going to a concert like that is as much about what you see as what you hear. You can listen to a CD in your car if all you want is the sound. Going to a concert in person means you get to watch the composer dancing in front of everyone, you can see the bows being drawn across the strings and see what bowing techniques each musician is using, you can watch the percussionists hitting things and brushing things and doing all sorts of things you would most likely miss if all you were able to do was hear the final effect. It’s like the difference between an electric organ and a wind-powered one, or the difference between a CD and a record – there is so much more to a performance than just the sound waves.