REVIEW: Worthing Symphony Orchestra

John Gibbons

John Gibbons

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ON a Sunday afternoon of glorious late-summer sunshine, Worthing Symphony Orchestra launched its 2015-16 season amid a blaze of fanfares, triumphal themes and hopes of a much higher profile both locally and beyond.

The Everlasting Majestie concert celebrated, in the words of principal conductor John Gibbons, “the historic occasion when Queen Elizabeth II became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch”.

Another crown was on Gibbons’ mind, though, when he addressed his start-of-term Assembly Hall audience – Worthing’s cultural crown and the orchestra’s place in it as a professional, performing-arts jewel.

“It’s a great achievement that we are still here,” he said. “When I’m up in London, people I know come up to me and say, John, I’m amazed you still manage to keep Worthing Symphony Orchestra going in this time of austerity and cutbacks. We do keep going, though.”

And he said it would be “fantastic” to aid this survival if everyone in the hall could tell the outside world that the orchestra existed, burying the misguided view that Worthing was a “cultural desert”.

“Worthing is increasingly being recognised as a place that has very good culture,” continued Gibbons. “And that high culture, particularly if it’s a symphony orchestra, has a huge impact on business leaders when they decide whether to locate to an area.

“You’d be amazed to know that we’ve missed out on certain companies because they decided Worthing was a cultural desert. That was a misconception.

“We all know it’s a misconception and our job is to make sure people are aware of the fantastic culture that goes on in Worthing and along the whole of the south coast.”

And so to the first treat of an exciting-looking season, Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music which had the back-to-school brass and woodwind sections – having stowed their buckets and spades and dabbed the last of the melted summer ice cream from their mouths – wrapping their chops round some testing early passages.

Further stately “tantaras” fit for a queen followed in the second half in Sir Arthur Sullivan’s Overture to the Yeomen of the Guard and the concert culminated in a Battle of Britain 75th-anniversary tribute courtesy of Beethoven’s Fifth, “the symphony so closely associated,” said Gibbons in his programme notes, “with the fight for freedom and liberty during the 20th century”.

The orchestra did full justice to the thrilling link between the third movement and the triumphant opening to the finale, a magical moment which never fails to make one beam from ear to ear and, like a lot of Beethoven’s music, has you imagining the sun suddenly bursting out to shine from behind scowling clouds.

Gibbons, in his introduction, added a solemn note of remembrance by drawing a parallel between Beethoven’s acute awareness of the fickleness of fate and the recent Shoreham Air Show tragedy in which 11 people died because they were in “the wrong place at the wrong time”.

The centrepiece of the concert had been the welcome return to Worthing of keyboard-royalty-in-waiting Varvara Tarasova, who followed up her victory playing Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto in the grand final of the third Sussex International Piano Competition in April by performing the highly Chopin-esque and Rachmaninov-like Scriabin concerto in F sharp minor.

Gibbons flagged up the piece’s beauty and delicacy, which St Petersburg-born Tarasova, now in her 27th year, displayed in abundance as she performed the work in public for the first time – and from memory, to boot, having started to learn it only two months ago.

It was fitting for a concerto composed in 1896 – when moving pictures were first shown – that the lushly orchestrated first movement had a cinematic sweep to it. And the lyrical, variations-on-a-theme second movement featured some lovely interplay between piano, strings and clarinet before a rousing, virtuosic final movement.

Tarasova again impressed with her massive, almost glacial composure at the concert grand. If, as she gains more experience, she can add extra fire to that ice and extend her dynamic range, she could well reign supreme as a soloist.

Frank Horsley

* For full details of Worthing Symphony Orchestra’s 2015-16 programme, go to www.worthingsymphony.co.uk

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