The Haslemere Musical Society cleverly solves the perennial problem for local music societies of the dichotomy between producing programmes which are sufficiently unusual to stimulate the players and the need for the music to be recognisable enough to attract audiences – they combine the two. In its programme on Saturday we heard a familiar Mendelssohn Symphony, a fairly well known piece by Wagner and two more obscure works for cello and orchestra which produced the tingle factor, not just for the orchestra but for the audience too.
Wagner composed the Siegfried Idyll as a birthday present for his second wife, Cosima, following the birth of their son Siegfried in 1869. The players sat on the stairs of the Wagners’ home and the music wafted up to Cosima in her bedroom; and what beautiful music it is. The HMS Symphony Orchestra caught the happiness of that occasion in a lyrical performance in which conductor James Ross coaxed a beautiful legato line from the string section, which dominates the work, together with excellent support from the other sections of the orchestra.
Fauré was a composer who often composed the slow movement of a new work first, only later writing the remainder of the piece. He began work on a cello sonata in this way in 1880. That movement, however, was as far as he got. Unwilling to abandon work already done, he orchestrated what he had written and named it his Élégie. The opening is a slow romantic melody leading to a more forceful and agitated passage before the work ends in an atmosphere of calm. The soloist, Anna Hunt, is the orchestra’s Principal Cello, here given the opportunity to shine in front of her colleagues; and what a fine player she is; a warm, totally secure tone, and full of feeling for the music. Her glorious playing was a real joy. She teaches cello (and piano) at Bohunt School and I hope her pupils appreciate what a talent they have in her.
Saint-Saëns’ Allegro Appassionato has a much more animated opening than the Fauré, and here Anna Hunt demonstrated that she can play with passion as well as feeling. The two themes of the work increasingly intertwine as it progresses and the orchestra gave empathetic support to the soloist.
Mendelssohn’s first inspiration for his ‘Scottish’ Symphony came on 30 July 1830 at Holyrood Palace. He then left Scotland for Italy and struggled to make progress with the piece before setting it aside for many years, only completing it in 1842. Perhaps because of this long period of gestation the work lacks the genius of the composer’s precocious Octet or Fourth (‘Italian’) Symphony; perhaps Mendelssohn found Italy more inspirational than Scotland! This is not to say that the ‘Scottish’ is not itself a fine work and the orchestra gave a performance full of commitment, relishing the more sympathetic acoustic of St Christopher’s church compared to their normal home of Haslemere Hall. The orchestra caught the second movement’s Scottish folk idiom well and the whole orchestra’s love of playing came shining through the performance and the full house went home having appreciated music both familiar and unfamiliar.
The next opportunity to hear the orchestra, together with its fine chorus, is on the second of December at Haslemere Hall.
Jim Miles – Reviewer
Anna Hunt & James Ross