REVIEW: Concert of Remembrance – Worthing Symphony Orchestra

Maria Marchant by Steven Peskett
Maria Marchant by Steven Peskett

REVIEW BY Richard Amey

Concert of Remembrance – Worthing Symphony Orchestra at Assembly Hall, Sunday 10 November (2.45pm), conductor John Gibbons, piano Maria Marchant.

Holst, ‘Jupiter’ from The Planets suite; Ronald Binge, ‘Sailing By’ from BBC Radio’s Shipping Forecast; Elgar, ‘Nimrod’ from Enigma Variations; Shostakovich, Piano Concerto No 2; George Lloyd, Symphony No 4 in B ‘Arctic’.

When does a professional orchestra of mainly London musicians leave a concert even happier than the audience? Perhaps when they have performed and enjoyed something they have never played before. Example: Worthing Symphony Orchestra amazed and excited at the teamwork experience of delivering George Lloyd’s Fourth Symphony to an audience themselves impressed and moved.

Double-bassist Richard Watson was probably alone among the 61-strong WSO in having played any Lloyd anywhere else before, but No 4 was new to him too. Cellists Miriam Lowbury and Vonny Parsons respectively purred and marvelled at what they had all just achieved, and in the process setting alight the audience in 60 minutes that seemed to last a lot less. Testament to something fully engaging and rewarding.

In the Second World War, Lloyd was aboard HMS Trinidad on the icy North Sea supply and patrol route between Britain and Russia, passing Nazi-occupied Norway. He was cornettist in a Royal Marines Band performing key strategic roles below deck against the enemy and dangerous freezing weather. He was in 1942 the Band’s sole survivor when a faulty Trinidad torpedo boomeranged back.

His ‘Arctic’ Symphony, of 1946, is a consequence. John Gibbons and WSO showed it carries the expressive and orchestral originality, and the descriptive and emotional power of a composer technically well-equipped but so much more mentally scarred – and emotionally aware – than average. Furthermore, though, a personality determined optimistically to recover and re-orientate his survival from shock and post-traumatic stress towards enjoyment and fulfilment in memory and tribute to his lost Bandsmen.

It sounded different because the music, not only in an ususual key, is new to us. Were this Symphony respected with due exposure and performances, British music would now know it as its northern hemispherical counterpart to Vaughan Williams’ ‘Sinfonia Antartica’. But not yet.

Both Symphonies have large cinematic dimensions and are about the physical and human scenery, and the psychological reaction to mortal danger and damage. RVW’s ends in snowscape oblivion, Lloyd’s in peacetime daylight after Nordic seascape peril.

Lloyd headed the Symphony “A world of darkness, storms, strange colours and far-away peacefulness”. With the special spoken-introductory help Gibbons deliberately gives them, his audience and orchestra ‘got it’ and were reacting dynamically as musicians and enthusiastically as listeners – on mere first hearing.

Such cheers and applause would have been embarrassing listening to the post-war BBC Radio authorities under Sir William Glock. They had never intended this to happen. When Lloyd submitted this Fourth Symphony to them, hoping for a broadcast or live performance, they returned it to him unopened. It was another highly dangerous package likely to cause nationwide intrigue, pleasure and enjoyment if exposed to the public.

Gibbons frequently has WSO playing the BBC’s institutionally sidelined British composers of the 1960s and 70s. It was dictated that new music should qualify only on marks awarded for intellectual rigour, invention of sound, new unconventional form and edgy subject matter. The result, as we know, was a radio listenership bewildered and frustrated by most new that they heard. Off switches underwent vehement wear and tear.

Why? As I see it, Glock’s organisation evidently decided new music was only worthwhile if it gave the nation a galvanising artistic reformation, to tackle a climate of Britain trailing behind Germany in post-war technological rebuild and advance, not only industrial but, to him, worse, artistic – eg. Stockhausen.

Anyway, this performance – a marvellously astute choice for Remembrance Sunday, one first floated in once a potential invasion-facing a seaside town (here, now) – counted as WSO’s latest expedition completed, and height scaled. They deserve a nickname. How about WAO (sound good to you?): Worthing Adventure Orchestra!

The programme for the first half embodied Lloyd’s philosphy. We can mourn and grieve interminably or we can pick ourselves up and rejoice in survival. The Bringer of Joy, Jupiter, as in Holst’s Zodiacal portrait, shook and scruffed us out of any despond.

Binge’s ‘Sailing By’ was timeslot-travelled from the bedtime Shipping Forecast to mid-Sunday afternoon, in simple waltz time with pretty flutes, harp and glockenspiel. A potentially life-saving broadcast clothed in a charming night gown.

‘Nimrod’ celebrates friendship in Enigma Variations. On Remembrance Day, its stand-alone use is to commemorate friends lost. Rather than its emotion, Gibbons and WSO showed its dignity and nobility, evoking a deep presence of mind and resoluteness of heart.

Then came the victim of a deadlier form of musical dictatorship: Shostakovich, celebrating the lifting of incessant Soviet ideological pressure on him, in a piece for his student son to dazzle his piano examiners. One of the most succinct and entertaining piano concertos there is.

Seaford’s Maria Marchant was Maxim for these 19 minutes of sprightly fun and romance, showing oneness with the orchestra around her, checking out their faces, moving her body in time, revelling in the toy soldier marches and bristling side drums that, for once, seem just possibly not to be the composer’s sarcastic view of the adult military.

Black hair tied back in silver and a high-necked, full-length, sleeveless, bright red dress, seqinned head to toe, she was dressed not for Remembrance Day but for the living and the loving afterwards – as in the meltingly slow movement, which surely Mr Glock would have sent back unopened had it arrived on his watch. Here, Marchant was thoughtful, inside the music, and at times her containment made its expressive understatement all the more poignant. Could this music have been about loss, too?

Yet more of the ocean? Maria Marchant’s engrossing encore was the arrangement for solo piano by baritone singer Roderick Williams of sometime Washington (Sussex) resident composer John Ireland’s song ‘Sea Fever’. Another rarely-heard piece. It’s on her CD.

It was a remarkable arts week of coincidence in Worthing. I wonder how many at WSO were also at the Connaught Studio live screening on Tuesday to see the Royal Ballet’s gem Triple Bill?

First was Kenneth’s McMillan’s ‘Concerto’ – to this very Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano Concerto. Second was Sir Frederick Ashton’s ‘Enigma Variations’ – to Elgar’s own friends pictured within, with Worthing’s Francesca Hayward as Dorabella, whose exquisite dance follows Nimrod as surely as a whispering morning breeze gently wakens a heart from a special summer’s night.

Richard Amey

Next WSO – two concerts on January Sundays (2.45pm, Assembly Hall):

5th January, New Year Celebration: popular Parisian dancing delights from Offenbach and Delibes join classic traditional Viennese favourites of Johann Strauss.

31st January, Walking In The Air: the concert version of Howard Blake’s ‘The Snowman’ plus his Piano Concerto (soloist Julian Trevelyan) written for Diana Princess of Wales’ 30th birthday; and more winter dancing – Skater’s Waltz, Sleigh Ride, Swan Lake Waltz, Dance of The Tumblers (Waldteufel, Delius, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov).

Children always £1.