(It’s actually not called that, though it could be; but Challow Park doesn’t have quite the same punning possibilities.)
I was impressed that a good 40-50 people made it through gale-force winds, downpour and rural roads to a location, if not quite as much in the middle of nowhere as some of the London-based performers made out, in semi-open countryside on the outskirts of an obscure south Oxfordshire market town. But really, that was the least impressive thing about last night’s concert.
I’ve already written in probably exaggerated superlatives about Graham Blyth’s completed but as yet sans décor basement concert hall and studio complex. It was with the full (20-strong) string section and timpani as well as organ, and the above-mentioned respectably-sized audience, in the hall that its properties really showed, with a lovely acoustic (subtly but helpfully assisted by some electronic/PA trickery that made it sound even bigger!) and the most dynamic range, expression and convincingness I’ve certainly ever heard out of an electronic organ.
The performance deserves real credit as well. This was what might be termed a semi-amateur concert, and the process was rendered more interesting by rehearsals of London Repertoire Orchestra (usually a drop-in, play-through affair) and of the circum-Wantage guest players taking place separately, so although I was leading 2nd violins, I only got to meet and play with most of my section on the afternoon of the concert!
For that size and ostensible level of ensemble, this was a really impressive concert. The Elgar String Serenade had the balance of pastoral lightness and restrained Romantic fire that is essential to the piece and yet I have heard missed by higher-aiming and higher-reputed performers. From the point of view of a player with a part in front of me, the Poulenc organ concerto, closing the first half, perhaps lost a little accuracy to demob-happiness, but it certainly did not lack spirit (and a great variety of spirit is required for this extraordinarily condensed piece from a wide-ranging master). I was utterly amazed, even having just rehearsed the piece in the afternoon, by the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony. This piece (better known in its original incarnation as the 8th string quartet) demands utter focus, precision ensemble, technique and a high degree of emotional resilience from performers, and there are some senses and parts in which it is probably more difficult in Barshai’s string orchestra arrangement. I do not think it would be an understatement to describe this performance as an epic journey for all concerned.
All in all a more than could have been expected rewarding (as well as challenging) gig. My attention’s now shifting forwards, with the Filthy Spectacula’s return to gigging after album sessions, a St Patrick’s Night guest spot, Hashtag Opera’s Anna Bolena and my first performances with Kindred Spirit all on the radar …