One has to keep remembering that this is an orchestra consisting of school pupils – not students or keen adults but young people, often with other equally demanding interests.
All sections of a symphony orchestra are represented, from full woodwinds to a great wall of brass boosting massive strings and percussionists. All in all a very exciting sound prospect.
Conductor Michael Seal entered everyone into the spirit of The Sea by Frank Bridge, a rarely played work of four descriptive movements. Inevitable frenetic storms contrasted with cool moonlit scenes. Intonation in thickly scored orchestra passages was occasionally somewhat unconvincing, but we were charmed by woodwind bird sounds, the changing tempi and dynamics giving rise to colourful pictures of sea-scapes.
Soprano soloist Helen Withers delighted all with four arias, particularly Korngold’s Marietta’s Lied, truly tender with heart stopping phrasing and beautifully placed astronomical top notes. However, the orchestra was at times far too loud. Something to address with more sensitivity we feel. Gounod’s Je veux vivre waltzed away with some delightful coloratura interspersions, the orchestra thankfully more discreet but still supportive.
A long, heart-stopping solo clarinet launched Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5, a fine opening for this massively challenging work. Fate is never far away, although lightened somewhat in the Scherzo. More care with ‘togetherness’ however, both with pizzicatos and in the lilting waltz passages.
Tchaikovsky’s soulful poignancy, despairing urgency and dark moods were challenges for this orchestra, but met head-on with exciting brass, dark horns and thrilling timpani.