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Review: Newcastle University's Symphony Orchestra, King's Hall

The orchestra, which comprises students, alumni, teachers and friends of the University played a demanding repertoire to a packed audience

****
Jonathan Bloxham
Jonathan Bloxham

Newcastle University Symphony Orchestra, King’s Hall, Newcastle University

There was a fanfare both to start and to finish the University Symphony Orchestra’s early summer public concert in the King’s Hall on Saturday evening.

American composer Aaron Copland’s famous Fanfare for the Common Man, his celebration of the working man and his rightful place in the world, invited the audience’s attention and showed off the brass and heavy percussion sections to great effect.

In an evening of two significant highlight pieces, Dvorak’s fine Cello Concerto, a work written during his four years’ stay in North America, and which included echoes of his symphony ‘From the New World’, provided a platform for both orchestra and the evening’s guest soloist Jonathan Bloxham.

The cellist, conductor and artistic director of the North East’s Northern Chords chamber music festival, gave a passionate and expressive performance, very well supported by the orchestra, and especially the brass section, which was strong throughout. As a delightful encore, and in memory of the victims of the Nepal earthquake victims, he played a Bach Sarabande as a memorable and poignant solo.

For the concert’s second half, the orchestra, which comprises not only students, but also alumni, teachers and friends of the University, played Gustav Mahler’s long, all-embracing first symphony.

There were musical echoes in the form of the trumpet section playing outside the Hall in the slow, pastoral opening movement, before the speed and enthusiasm increased with a movement built around an Austrian waltz. The third movement is labelled a funeral march, and even includes the famous Frère Jacques tune played in the minor key, and an Eastern European Klezmer-style musical group.

The long final section brings transformation as it recaps earlier themes, before the enhanced horn section stands for the concluding fanfare.

Mark Edwards, the evening’s respected young conductor, and also a University alumnus, marshalled his many troops effortlessly and pulled a really good, coherent performance from each one.

The really good choice of demanding repertoire was enthusiastically received by the packed audience.

* The Northern Chords festival 2015 opens on May 25 – check out www.northernchords.com for all details.

Rob Barnes

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