Somerset Chamber Orchestra 1999 - Reviews

Still going strong after more than two decades

Somerset Chamber Orchestra Concert. Wells Cathedral, August 28

The Somerset Chamber Orchestra came of age musically years ago and the concluding concert of its twenty-first summer season gave more than ample evidence of this.

James Scourse, founder-conductor, was joined by his founder-leader Jane Carwardine and many long-standing members in his usual attractive programme, all of which made it difficult to understand why there were not more present to enjoy such an idyllic evening.

Mozart's Masonic Funeral Music was an unusual choice as opener, the gravity of which mesmerised the audience into silence at the end, but it was already clear that we were in for an evening of impeccable instrumental balance and elegant phrasing.

Dick Kippen, principal clarinet since 1986, was the soloist in Finzi's Five Bagatelles, a perfect choice for a summer evening, and his feel for lyrical line was nowhere more beautifully demonstrated than in his ravishing duet with Jane Carwardine in the third piece, Carol.

In the livelier pieces his playing was polished

and witty, particularly in the final Fughetta.

The last two items were linked by Shakespeare.

The Two Dream Interludes from Elgar's Symphony Study Falstaff were exquisitely shaped and the nostalgic atmosphere lovingly conveyed.

What a pity the orchestral forces required by the complete work are beyond the chamber scope of the SCO.

Finally, there were excerpts from Mendelssohn's Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Following the bucolic Dance Of The Clowns, the gossamer textures required by the Scherzo presented the ultimate ensemble problems, but the focus of the playing solved them as well as is possible in the Cathedral acoustic.

....The overture, placed last, returned us to the filigree delicacy that is uniquely Mendelssohnian with beautifully articulated and unanimous string work in particular. ....

Hywel Jenkins

Central Somerset Series, 2nd September 1999

Somerset Chamber Orchestra

South Petherton Parish Church

The Somerset Chamber Orchestra has always produced quality playing of interesting programmes. Never more so than this year at South Petherton Church when the musical and technical standards reached a new pinnacle of excellence.

The sombre tones and measured tread of Mozart's Masonic Funeral music made a thoughtful start to the concert but the vividly rich orchestration laced with the sounds of basset horn and contra-bassoon were a revealing correction to the popular view of Mozart solely as a projector of pretty tunes.

The more familiar Mozart of the Piano Concertos, K.477 in this case, needs beauty of tone which was readily available at the outset from the upper strings followed by the whole orchestra, notably violas and cellos. The soloist, Nicholas Toller, soon set out his stall,

not content to sound, as often, like a supernumary member of the orchestra but as a rightly independent voice - arguing and elaborating. His confident playing had a clear vision of local and overall structure and his cadenzas were, well, interesting. Too often, however, an undercurrent of discomfort threaded the dialogue with the orchestra when disparities of tempo surfaced.

After the interval a cut-down band exploded into the start of lbert's Divertissement. This wondrous piece is a sort of musical Goon Show in French and is best played by dedicated loonies, with the proviso that they also play exquisitely well. These requirements eminently well satisfied, the performance had racy humour, dazzling colours, a whole raft of contrasting moods, and a referee's whistle blown (on this occasion) atop a Yeovil Town shirt. It rightly brought the house down.

We then moved into familiar territory with a performance of Mendelssohn's Incidental Music to Midsummer Night's Dream with its deceptively tricky orchestral parts. A relaxed swing characterised the opening number, the Dance of the Clowns, and the woodwind bubbled and chattered happily enough in the scherzo. Two more numbers took us finally (perversely) to the Overture where the delicate tracery of the violin parts laid in wait. Apprehension evaporated as they sailed through it.

James Scourse who had conducted throughout with care and authority, finally wound up the evening with a stirring finale where brass and woodwind became, excusably, somewhat enthusiastic, giving way eventually to melting sweetness of melody and those haunting woodwind chords.


As submitted to the Western Gazette, 9th September 1999