Review / A community orchestra shares the love

Music / “Orchestral Colours”. Maruki Community Orchestra. At the Albert Hall, May 20. Review by CLINTON WHITE

IN an ambitious program, the Maruki Community Orchestra, under John Gould’s baton, proved just how important music is in a community setting. The players obviously enjoy the experience of orchestral music-making and responded well to Gould’s well-defined, if somewhat “stiff”, direction from the conductor’s podium, particularly entries, finishes and tempi.

With the autumn sun streaming in from a clear blue sky through the beautiful arched windows of the Albert Hall, the first piece, Rimsky-Korsakov’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” perhaps was a little incongruous with its legends of witches, Satan’s cortege, and such. Nonetheless, the orchestra created the images with spirited playing.

But it soon was obvious that, in developing the orchestra further, more focus could go to tuning and sectional playing, as well as overcoming the challenge created by the imbalance in the orchestra. With more than 50 players in the orchestra, the lonely four first violins tried valiantly all through the concert to carry the tune, but never quite got there. But when a community setting encourages people to play, it would seem contrary to the “community” to cut down on over-sized sections. They just need a few more first violins!

Frenchman, Georges Bizet, wrote his first symphony when he was just 17 years old. Although it certainly was well beyond his years in its complexity and musical “completeness”, sadly, he never heard it played and it wasn’t published until 1933, more than 50 years after his death. Again, Gould’s solid direction took the players along in a well-paced and nicely expressive performance, especially in the last movement, the most familiar of the four.

After interval of a typically sumptuous community-prepared afternoon tea, Maruki’s principal oboe, Ben Stewart, pulled out his visually and aurally rather attractive oboe d’amore, a replica of a 1725 instrument. Standing in front of just the orchestra’s strings for JS Bach’s Concerto for Oboe d’amore, BWV1055r, Stewart’s accomplished fingerwork rose to the challenge of Bach’s seemingly endless note progressions and sequences. It was a fine performance, with the strings giving nicely measured accompaniment.

The rest of the orchestra returned for the final work in the program, Edward Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36, popularly known as “Enigma Variations” and featuring the much-loved “Nimrod”.  Like the other works in this concert, this piece was played expressively and with precision at some very nice tempi. Overall though, the work could do with a little more “personality” – conductor’s poetry – to take the notes off the printed page and give them more colour and life.

Maruki has potential. The players love what they do and are enthusiastic about making music together – as a community – and for the enjoyment of their audiences. Those are the right ingredients for success.

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