REVIEW: Concert of Romantic Favourites – Worthing Symphony Orchestra, Idil Biret (piano), John Gibbons (conductor), Assembly Hall

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IF ANY ONE doubts that the Worthing Symphony Orchestra concert season ticket at eight concerts for the price of six is the town’s entertainment bargain of the autumn, they ought to have heard the two big moments of all Beethoven lying in wait for the listener in his Leonora Overture No 3.

It’s a thrilling bonus for the concert hall that the composer thus bequeathed this 14-minute piece after replacing it with a briefer, more orthodox curtain-opener for his revised only opera Fidelio. The dramatic rescue and liberation of political captive Florestan from prison by his gender-disguised wife and the Minister of State is told by Leonore No 3 in vivid, concentrated detail.

With this piece conductor John Gibbons compellingly raised the WSO’s curtain on their new season. With the same full forces as Beethoven used in the finale of his 5th Symphony, the searching, dungeon-creeping introduction bore a breadth comparable to that of the opening to his 7th Symphony.

There’s a memorable and theatrical trumpet call announcing the Minister’s arrival. Les Miserables’ West End production trumpeter Timothy Hawes was heard in superbly evocative acoustic context offstage. Then, in Florestan’s release, there’s the fleeing of the human spirit to its desired and rightful freedom, depicted incomparably by Beethoven in the sudden song flight of a bird. The WSO’s own golden oriole, principal flautist Monica McCarron, was the perfect painter of this picture, her sound ravishingly mellow, agile and elated.

The excitement did not wane. Last season ended with Rakhmaninov’s 2nd Symphony and here came his 1st Piano Concerto, written as a 19-year-old admirer of Tchaikovsky, emulating Tchaikovsky’s own 1st Piano Concerto in scale as Rakhmaninov unfolded his even superior pianistic technical prowess. Billed pre-concert as a legend, if soloist Idil Biret is remembered as such in Worthing it will partly be on account of the immense power this diminutive Turkish lady unleashes.

At 5ft 2in, she not only punches at double her weight but conquers, too. The first movement was a matter of her seizing the Steinway piano and sending it pounding through the orchestra in a catalogue of cascades and blows, culminating in a cadenza of some titanic moments of explosive strength and bravura − actually capped, were it possible, by the final page of the movement.

Her variety of evocative texture characterised the middle movement and she made the finale a showcase of pianistic musical entertainment in partnership with the WSO in a reading never of sentimentality, always of service to the passing moods of the composer.

Russian colour further diversified after the interval in the short Procession of the Sardar (Persian for military leader) by composer unknown by many, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. This rounds off his suite of Caucasian Dances, all four of which Mr Gibbons should let us enjoy in another season. Percussionist Chris Blundell, complete with triangle, provided the marching band and jangling battle medals and horse metals.

Finally, the WSO’s four horns gave us views of Schumann’s Rhine in his 3rd Symphony. Its five-movements give us his rollicking, besotted tour of his new Dusseldorf district home contrasted with river-misted visions of the mesmeric Cologne Cathedral. Though numbered 3rd it’s actually his 4th, and mental illness may have robbed us of any 5th that may have capitalised for Schumann on the success of this work.

The WSO gave us a thumpingly wholehearted welcome back to their world, which on October 13 (2.45) will introduce Emma Johnson in Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto. For lovers of English music, this piece is what we gave the clarinet repertoire and here is our top female English celebrity of the instrument playing it.

She’s also playing TV music with Paul Reade’s The Victorian Kitchen Garden. This concert will have a special sound. The WSO are strings-only and add Elgar’s Introduction & Allegro, and Tchaikowsky’s Serenade for Strings.

And on October 25 (6.45pm) the Worthing Symphony Society present Olga Paliy, the Sussex Competition Audience Prize winner here in April, in an intimate and ambient Russian flavoured Interview Concert at The Denton – which will include translated Russian poetry.

More concert details are on the seemingly eternally awaited new WSO website at www.worthingsymphony.co.uk

Richard Amey

www.worthingsymphony.co.uk