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Maidstone Symphony Orchestra 18 October 2018 (Susan Elkin reviews)

The opening concert in MSO’s 108th season really belonged to young cellist, Maxim Calver. Aged only 18, he was a finalist in this year’s BBC Young Musician of the Year and he stood in at short notice for the booked soloist.

Unusually he began, at conductor Brian Wright’s request, with a solo piece – a variation, from a work by Lutoslawski commissioned by Rostopovitch and pretty dramatic it was too. He played this ambitious piece, complete with glissandi and quarter tones with intense insouciance.

Then, in place of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, it was on to a strikingly mature performance of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme with the legato variations leaned on for maximum romance and the faster ones delivered with crisp witty aplomb. His use of harmonics is spectacular too.

And as if that weren’t enough he then treated us to a richly nuanced encore – the very familiar but evergreen Sarabande from Bach’s First Cello Suite. Thus, this engaging, poised young man who smiles though the music when his rapier eyes aren’t staring into the distance, whizzed through the music of three centuries in less than an hour.

The concert began with Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem which is getting a number of outings this year to mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice. It’s a tricky work. You don’t often see MSO front desk players visibly counting but they carried it off. The Dies Irae movement with the relentless rhythms ably underpinned by weighty percussion  (seven in the section) was especially impressive and there was some lovely work from harpists, Milo Harper and Alex Tindall.

Pictures at an Exhibition, of course, as we now usually hear it owes as much to Ravel’s orchestration as it does to Mussorgsky’s original piano suite. In this intelligent performance Brian Wright allowed every soloist and solo section  – some excellent playing here – to ensure that we noticed their contribution but without ever letting the piece feel bitty. It sailed along with warmth, fireworks and lots of colour. At the end Wright stood tuba player, Andy Bridges up first and quite right too. His solo was splendid as was Mike Austin’s work on alto saxophone. And The Great Gate of Kiev, the final section, with those evocative tubular bells and cymbal clashes must have sent every member of the audience away with melody ringing in their heads.

Yes, the season is off to a fine start. Roll on 1st December.

This review was first published by Lark Reviews: http://www.larkreviews.co.uk/?cat=3

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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