At first sight a concert all about the sea would appear to offer little variety. This one admittedly had its fair share of wind and waves - and even the same titles - but there were several rewarding differences.
Most interesting of all was the opportunity to compare Britten's Four Sea Interludes with the less familiar The Sea, by his teacher Frank Bridge. Despite similarities of mood and structure (each starts with a scene-setter before moving on to a scherzo and ending with Moonlight and Storm movements) they are quite unalike. Bridge's lyricism is more generally evocative and often very romantic, whereas Britten's highly individual subject-specific approach seems almost visual.
Conductor Michael Lloyd made them sound different too. The Sea benefited from warmly focused string playing and deftly handled wind and brass detail, with a concluding Storm high in dramatic excitement. Britten's Interludes on the other hand (and his Storm in particular) were much harsher, and rather nervy in places, reflecting perhaps the greater technical demands of the score.
In La Mer Lloyd and this enterprising amateur orchestra judged Debussy's tonal landscape perfectly, throwing off the various twiddly bits in Jeu de vagues with remarkable accuracy and achieving in the storm-tossed Dialogue du vent et de la mer a compelling and effulgent sounding sense of menace.
They also gave a sensitive reading of Elgar's Sea Pictures, which New Zealand mezzo Helen Medlyn sang with immaculate articulation and clear words. She didn't deny the poetry's sentimentality either, with smiles, wistful gazes and hand gestures that some might have regarded as signs of a period interpretation. Sunday's audience certainly loved it.