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The Royal Philharmonic at the Cambridge Corn Exchange

HCRFMs regular Sunday show presenter Jon Aveling went to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on October the 28th perform at the Cambridge Corn exchange in the first of the 2016-17 series of Classical music concerts. Below is his overview on the evening’s concert and ancillary events.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra dates from 1946 and this is their 70th year. They were originally founded by the great conductor Sir Thomas Beecham and are currently Cambridge Corn Exchange’s Orchestra in residence. Their managing director James Williams gave a pre-concert talk at Heffer’s book shop to ticket holders and outlined the fluctuating fortunes over the 70 years including receiving Royal ascent from the Queen mother in the 60’s after a period of decline following Beecham’s death in 1961. Energetic, passionate about the orchestra and their capabilities he came over very well.

RPO Cambridge

The evening’s concert consisted of three pieces of music. Rossini’s William Tell Overture, Mendelssohn’s concerto in E Minor for violin with Carolin Widmann the soloist and a finale of Sibelius’ Symphony number 2 in D major. The first thing I noticed about the Orchestra was its average age. There appeared to be a lot of young people both male and female in their line up and this was great to see.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has a significant string section and its sound is deliberately distinctive. Given that, the acoustics of the Corn Exchange, often maligned were well suited to the strings with the pizzicato of the double bass during the pieces resonating really well.  

The evening started with Rossini’s William Tell overture which was approached with good pace and lively tempo. The Orchestra, under the baton of Conductor Alexander Shelley, showcasing their collective talents and doing the piece justice. A thoroughly enjoyable and upbeat start. 

Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor for violin followed and Carolin  Widmann showed why she is so highly rated. The pitch and tone of her 18th century Guadagnini violin came over beautifully as did her astonishing hand speed. It earned her a rapturous ovation and her encore was a Sarabande by Bach. This she played unaccompanied and in truth the Orchestra looked a little lost while she completed the piece. It is difficult to have a “rehearsed encore” but if ever it was possible then this surely was the time. Still it was beautifully played and earned Ms Widmann another ovation.

After a short interval the concert resumed with Conductor Alexander Shelley taking the microphone and outlining the reasons for the evening’s musical choices. This included the fact that next year sees the century since the Russian revolution which also gained Finland its independence. To commemorate this the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra are showcasing works from Russian Prokofiev and Finnish Sibelius. This pre amble was perfectly pitched and delivered and was appropriately informative to the audience. It is clear that Shelley knows and understands his Orchestra and the pieces. Not for him over flamboyant baton waving and gesturing. Throughout the whole concert he oozed leadership and control with the Orchestra responding to his every wish. If you are a young person wanting to become a modern Conductor you would do a lot worse than follow his impeccable lead. He took the Orchestra through the musical journey that is Sibelius Symphony number 2 in D. Because The Conductor in his talk had highlighted Sibelius’ use of phrases throughout the work it was easier for an untrained ear such as mine to spot them (I think!) and the last movement really did make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

RPO Cambridge#2

The overall impression of the concert was one of excellent music choice, beautifully played by exceptional musicians well led by a quality conductor who understood both the pieces and his orchestra really well. 

If you get the chance to see them live either later in the Cambridge Classical Concert series or at their home in Cadogan Hall in Sloane Square London you will not be disappointed.

The Cambridge classical Concert series runs from October 2016 to June 2017 and has 9 concerts. Full details can be found at https://www.cambridgelivetrust.co.uk/cornex/cornex/classical-series-1617.

HCR104FM is hoping to attend many of these and interview performers, artists and those involved in these productions over the coming months. Interviews will appear on the website at hcrfm.co.uk