As Eastbourne came out of lockdown, large orchestras were once again able to perform in the town. The first was the London Philharmonic which drew an audience that nearly filled the huge, newly-refurbished Congress Theatre.
On Sunday 24 October, it was the turn of our own local orchestra, the ESO, in its established venue of St Saviour’s Church, to perform its first post-lockdown concert. And what a triumph it was. My fear that, because the players had not played together for two years, the orchestra may not be able to produce the high quality it has sustained for so long was completely without foundation. Not only was their playing a joy to hear again but the obvious eagerness and support of the large audience were testament to the fact that the ESO committee was right to press ahead with its autumn concert.
From the moment conductor Graham Jones raised his baton, it was clear that the audience was in for a treat. Somehow, as if by magic, all the strings and wind had managed to maintain their quality. And the items to be played were so well chosen.
Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture sparkled, and this was followed by Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ Symphony which was a particular delight, capturing well the images of the Rhineland. In the fourth movement, the brass displayed control in the well-graded crescendo and climax which lead to the haunting end before the effervescent final movement.
After the interval came Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. Dominic Doutney, the piano soloist and this year’s winner of Eastbourne’s annual Norah Sande Award, showed great sensitivity and well-shaped phrasing in the lyrical, yearning quality of the familiar melodies which contrasted with his technical mastery in the more flamboyant display passages. The strings and the wind solos from the orchestra were of real quality.
I’m sure that many of my age in the audience would have been reminded of one of Frank Sinatra’s hits, Full Moon and Empty Arms, as the tune is a straight crib from this piano concerto.
Ah, if only all symphony concerts could be like this!
We look forward to the ESO’s 42nd season which begins with their Young Soloist Competition, now in its 34th year. In the Birley Centre, the first round takes place over the weekend of 22 and 23 January, and the final on Sunday 13 February. Next comes their annual choral concert on Sunday 8 May in St Saviour’s Church where the orchestra will be joined by the Eastbourne Symphony Chorus and the Eastbournian Society Chorus, along with soloists Rachel Shouksmith, Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks and Christopher Dixon. More details on www.eso.org.uk
Reviewed by Robin Gregory