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Bernstein, Ravel, Bridge and Britten

Bernstein: Overture to Candide (1956)

Ravel: Ma Mere l'oye (1908 – 1911)

Bridge: Summer (1914)

Britten: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell [A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra], op.34 (1945)

Orpheus Sinfonia/ Nicholas Collon

St Paul’s, Covent Garden, London – 25 March 2010


Starting with a boisterous Candide Overture, Collon put the band through its paces and achieved a truly raucous and wild performance which set the bright tone for the whole concert. Ravels’ Mother Goose was given in the complete ballet version with not only the five well known movements but a prelude and interludes as well. Scored for a medium sized orchestra this sounded very good in the large space of St Paul’s and the music really blossomed at climaxes.  The end, with its reminiscence of the gamelan, was truly radiant. Collon had obviously spent time working out how to use the acoustic to his advantage – his recent performance of Mahler’s 10th Symphony, in the huge space of St John’s, Smith Square, showed just how aware he is of sound in space, and how to use it to the benefit of the music.


Bridge’s Summer was perhaps just a touch on the heavy side but Britten’s Guide, complete with narration, was magnificent, each section really showing itself to best advantage and the final fugue a virtuoso display of orchestral sound. Geoffrey Palmer, the narrator, really drew one into the music with his easy delivery - almost like a favourite uncle telling a well known and loved story.


In the morning the orchestra had given the concert, minus the Bridge, for 250 schoolchildren, who were, in the main, fascinated by the sights and sounds. Collon introduced the instruments of the orchestra to the children, having each one play a little something appropriate to them, then talked about the fairytales in the Ravel work, which led to a brief question and answer between himself and the children. This was a perfect way to engage young listeners with great music. Palmer again narrated the Guide and never spoke down to the audience, using his entire actor’s training to best ability making it feel like a kind of game. The programme book contained pictures of all the instruments and no text. Perfect.


The Orpheus Foundation, which runs the orchestra, is a charity set up to foster young musicians – between college and the professional musical world – and give them the chance to display their virtuosity and musicality before an audience. On the strength of this, and previous concerts I have heard, they are getting it right. I might also mention that it has just released two CDs of live performances (3rd February 2010) of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and the Violin Concerto with Thomas Gould and they are well worth hearing.


Give us more like this, Orpheus Foundation, and performers and audiences of the future will be assured. 


Bob Briggs