By AF Harrold
The Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra are a local amateur orchestra who proudly claim to only rehearse for two weekends before a concert. Despite their lack of practice AF Harrold discovered that they’re actually rather good.
26.01.08 | Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra | The Concert Hall
This local orchestra, named after the founder of the Reading Bluecoat School, Richard Aldworth, is an amateur orchestra made up of enthusiastic local players who make an annual visit to the concert hall, as well as playing three other concerts a year at the school.
They run an innovative and generous Concert Virgins scheme, whereby if you have never been to an orchestral concert before you can come to one of theirs for free.
The evening's performance began with a world premiere of an Elgar piece (the Larghetto movement from the Serenade for Strings) arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of the bits of manuscript discovered in the RVW archives a few years ago.
Mozart’s Concerto For Flute and Harp followed, being a mathematically neat and precise piece sounding just like Mozart sounds, with lovely interplay between the flute and harp – sometimes mirroring one another’s phrases, sometimes interweaving and sometimes playing counterpoint.
The tone of both the solo instruments was glorious in the large room – exactly the same reason the acoustics are so bad for garrulous comedians makes it ideal for the purity of this music. But one can't help but find the Mozart somewhat dull by the end, especially in comparison with the rest of the evening's programme.
The final piece in the first half was a new commission from the 23 year old composer Matthew Peterson. His setting of the 1914 poem, A London Thoroughfare: 2 AM, by fellow American Amy Lowell, is a remarkably exciting piece, fresh and passionate, especially following on from the bewigged and prinked piece that preceded it.
Beginning with percussive atmospherics it soon takes off on gorgeous lilting dissonances to embellish and embroider the lyric – late night lamps shining on the damp street as if it were a slow-moving river.
There are impressionistic onomatopoeic touches – the little cabs going up and down the street, whistles that make one think of the factory whistles in Sondheim's score for Sweeney Todd – here and there a touch of 'Gershwinerry' pops up, essential for any American abroad perhaps – before a lyrical, slow passage describes the look of the moon from the poet’s window.
Even this reflective movement is undercut however by a tense undertow, as if the city is still urgent – the moon is not bright enough to light it, she can't match the cold white laps of the street.
The final section matches the wafting trill of distant dissonant sirens, the sound of the half-slumbering city, with a subdued sounding of Westminster chimes and a time-check, confirming that the piece ends at 2 AM. This is a beautiful, challenging piece setting for an affective little poem, sung fascinatingly by Katherine Bond.
The second half of the concert is Ralph Vaughan Williams earlier expression of London, his London Symphony. This, though not being as immediate as the Peterson piece, is a marvellously evocative experience, stepping lightly through a melange of folk tunes, and cityscapes, from the urgent nightlife to an almost bucolic and melancholic Bloomsbury square, complete with flower girl.
For anyone familiar with Bill Bailey’s exposition on the Cockney influence in classical music there is a wonderfully funny moment in the first movement, when there is an actual full orchestral statement of the ‘Have a Banana’ motif, which is beautiful and sets the mind wondering what else Bill Bailey might be telling the truth about.
It’s a great and deep statement of what RVW felt it meant to be a Londoner and combined with the Peterson commentary on being a foreigner in London it makes this evening’s concert a nostalgic sketch of what made London, and by extension England, a beautiful place.
Noël Coward said at the curtain call of the first night of Cavalcade in 1931, "It is still pretty exciting to be English", this music makes one wish it might still be, still.
last updated: 29/01/2008 at 18:03