SHAKESPEARE figured heavily in the final ActewAGL concert of the year at Llewellyn Hall along with extraordinary violin playing from Grace Clifford and some fitting shenanigans from the conductor and orchestra and three encores.
The moving first few bars of Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture”, which opens on woodwinds, set the tone for a powerful and romantic piece. It becomes filled with swelling and driving rhythmical patterns that evolve into some of the most well-used romantic music ever. The volume, shades and tone of the CSO under conductor Nicholas Milton were just right. The bass drum and timpani let the audience know they were there, and the enthusiastic conducting of Milton added drama to this powerful work.
The violin soloist begins at the opening bar of Samuel Barber’s “Violin Concerto”. It was immediately clear that Grace Clifford’s playing, which was filled with a delicate touch, was going to suit this almost pastoral and dreamy piece. The andante, which has been used in several movies, starts with the sound of the oboe centre stage. It weaves its striking tune over the orchestra until the violin comes in with an understated yet emotive expression. Clifford produces music as though it is crying from her violin. The depth of sadness in this movement is palpable and was clearly evident in Clifford’s playing and on her face and body gestures.
The final movement rushes into life for the soloist and orchestra. It moves at such a pace that Clifford had to reset her position to accommodate the speed required to play it. Not only did the audience applaud loud and long so did the whole orchestra. After three bows she gave an encore with the conductor on piano.
Before the interval, the CSO played the rousing march from the “Dam Busters” movie by Eric Coates as a celebration of the life of Richard Gill who once led the CSO. It was Gill’s favourite piece and had many in the audience with teary eyes, as well as the conductor.
Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” turned the whole orchestra into the rhythm section as they clicked their fingers in perfect timing with the snappy beat of the “Prologue”. The large percussion section behind and in the orchestra swung with gusto for the whole piece.
Encouraging the audience to join in the festivities, Milton held a microphone out to get everyone to shout “mambo”, and they sure did. Every member of the orchestra got into the bustling dynamic movement of the music. The conductor did everything from jumping and dancing to even not conducting and letting the solo flute lead the orchestra into the final movement.
But, the CSO couldn’t let the audience go without a jumping, loud Latin dance piece, which almost brought the house down. Then, there was more, another encore. As Milton was off stage, the percussion section hammered out an ear-blistering beat. When back on the podium, he encouraged concert master Maria Lindsay to get up and dance to an encore from “West Side Story” and she did, wonderfully. That did bring the house down with a standing ovation.