REVIEW: Worthing Symphony Orchestra joined by Jeneba Kanneh-Mason
Sunday 4 February 2024 (2.45pm), leader Julian Leaper, conductor & music director John Gibbons, piano soloist Jeneba Kanneh-Mason (say it as in “Jennifer”). Antonin Dvorak, Czech Suite Op39; Wolfgang Mozart, Piano Concerto No 24 in A K488; Dina Appledoorn, Pastorale; Felix Mendelssohn, Symphony No 4 in A Op90 ‘Italian’.
Behind the scenes, five minutes before curtain-up, the WSO leader was unhesitant. He’d put down his top British violin, a William Luff, purchased only a fortnight earlier. And he’d picked up a brand new fiddle, brought to him that afternoon by its maker, luthiers Glen and Susie Collins.
Before those five minutes were gone, even though he’d not even handled that instrument before, he’d decided to play the Collins. A mirror check, an adjustment of his black bow tie, and out he strolled onto the stage, to the leader’s applause, and his waiting 1st Violin part of Dvorak’s Czech Suite.
If you were, say, a guitarist, personally bound to your instrument, typically inseparable, would you have done that? Julian Leaper, leader also of British international ensemble the Maggini String Quartet, is someone who uses a global-class violin in his hands as familiarly as a knife and fork. Glen Collins and his Finnish wife Susie are, reports Leaper, the makers of fiddles now taking over from Luff at the top of the UK makers tree.
Something musically and nationally remarkable is happening in Worthing. Already, the town houses its own long-continuing professional orchestra (WSO), one of the world’s leading woodwind instrument makers (Howarth), and long a world-leading recording studio speaker manufacturer (B&W). In the WSO sits Chris O’Neal playing a Howarth oboe. The Worthing Philharmonic Orchestra has risen to become a semi-pro orchestra to be regionally reckoned with, and is now 75 years old. Its London-based, Royal Opera House-trained conductor and musical director, Dominic Grier, has domestically uprooted to live here.
A few hundred yards from Howarth, the town’s first violin workshop and retail outlet is now opening at 35 West Buildings. And it is Collins Violins. Glen and Susie have moved to Goring from Newark School of Violin Making in Nottinghamshire. Their early record includes having two violins commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin and another by Leland Chen. The King has a Collins cello and the Prince of Wales a Collins child’s violin. While settling into their premises, Collins will initially take visit appointments on 07402 210676.
Said Glen: “I came to the concert on Sunday expecting to hear the Luff and heard my own instrument instead.” How did Leaper’s day go with it? It played to WSO’s biggest audience of the season – getting on for 700. The main draws were Mozart and the first return of one of the four Kanneh-Masons to have appeared with this orchestra. Dvorak’s less well-known but welcome Czech Suite came as a potentially delicious opener and Mendelssohn’s popular Italian Symphony would stirringly ice the cake in typical WSO concert-closing fashion.
Unknown in this country and probably never performed here was a 1937 Dutch Pastorale by Dina Appledoorn – a Gibbons discovery he has performed back to a Zandvoort audience on Liberation Day with Ealing SO. Initially, flute and muted horn seemed possibly avian and mammalian characters to reappear on the scene. The music began reminiscent of Delius, then Debussy, then Ravel, and one wondered if here might come an equivalent piece.
The concert programme brochure speculated on the music being a possible 1939 war-outbreak premonition. Hard to substantiate on the aural evidence. Cor anglais, oboe and solo cello lethargically established a varying overall mood but the piece delivered little else and seemed over before it had gone anywhere much. The British countryside, with its greater variety, evidently proves a richer and perhaps more eventful inspiration for music composition!
The Czech Suite, tuneful always, came somewhat sluggishly from WSO. One wondered if we’d arrived at a Bohemian village dance rather late. When the fifth and final section arrived, a Furiant, and the drums and trumpets saw their first action of the day, one wondered what had already been going on that they were making a noise about – or was it just the publican calling Time?
Jeneba Kanneh-Mason’s WSO debut calling card in September 2022 was Rachmaninov’s famous second concerto. Now she came hand in hand with Mozart’s most popular Piano Concerto, the 23rd in a series WSO rarely draw on. Lead bassoon is Gavin McNaughton who recorded all 27 in Murray Perahia’s benchmark 1980s recordings with the English Chamber Orchestra, and Chris O’Neal has played umpteen with the London Mozart Players.
Since Perahia, the use of the fortepiano and the arrival of authentic period instrumentation has changed world perception of how a Mozart concerto might have sounded in 18th Century Vienna under his own hands and simultaneously conducting also his own orchestra. We now accept a Steinway grand piano and a separate conductor as a smooth and refined staple because so few alternative fortepianos are around to be heard live in public, with their crisp but delicate vibrancy. And a period instrument orchestra is a rare provincial visitor, only one having ever performed in Worthing – The Hanover Band, here just once, before later setting up home in Arundel.
Jeneba K-M’s entrance drew sharp breath intakes with her sleeveless, full-length concert dress of electric blue sequins, and her long ever-graceful limbs giving her easy keyboard-length reach. If not a concerto bringing gasps, it’s one throwing out eternal delight in its tirelessly active and sunny outer two movements. These frame a completely different, halting F# minor slow movement which amid such company can only appear as dark.
Mozart is now in full operatic flow and that true metier of his shapes and colours even his non-operatic compositions. So Jeneba K-M, her Mozart career still at dawn, has this musical characterisation challenge. She’s on a Royal College of Music scholarship under a long erstwhile WSO visiting soloist, Vanessa Latarche, and her launching out on this possible lifetime’s journey is wisely commenced.
She gave us the clean Mozart notes and sound-on-a-Steinway, almost completely stripped back to basic. No keyboard continuo, which Mozart would have spontaneously added himself; very little free stylistic ornamentation of the tunes; no added improvisatory mini-cadenzas; the text stuck-to, with perhaps just a hint of rightful personal liberty in the first-movement cadenza. Such an approach means we get Mozart in his primary inspiration, and the reason we worship him is for his human awareness in his purity of utterance.
Once the orchestra were ready, the intimacy of these concertos suddenly confronted the audience. Gone were the timpani, trumpets, oboes and second flute. Just the 23 strings with 7 winds and horns, ready to caress, tickle and tease, rejoice and ravish.
The joy and jinks of his The Marriage of Figaro pervades the K488 atmosphere and the bleak despair of one desolate storyline character is suddenly found in the middle. The surrounding music breeds smiling listeners but in that central jolt Mozart points up the depth of our shared humanity. Jeneba and Gibbons ensured nothing prevented the music giving us this.
Worthing Philharmonic Orchestra, Sunday 11 February – 3pm Assembly Hall – ‘Nordic Adventures’ – conductor Dominic Grier
Sibelius: Kullervo Introduction and Violin Concerto (Preston Yeo, violin); Lemminkainen’s Return. Nielsen: Saul & David Act II Prelude and Helios Overture. Grieg: Peer Gynt five exerpts and Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. Alfven: Swedish Rhapsody No 2 (Uppsala).
Worthing Symphony Orchestra, Sunday 3 March – 2.45pm Assembly Hall – WSO ‘Kosmos Ensemble’ – John Gibbons; Harriet Mackenzie violin, Meg-Rosaleen Hamilton violas, Miloš Milivojević accordion.
Parry: Lady Radnor’s Suite; Walton: Touch Her Soft Lips (Henry V); Igor Shamo: Accordion Concerto; Grace Williams: Sea Sketches; Errolyn Warren: Triple Concerto (Kosmos Ensemble); PIazzolla: Libertango.
Tickets for both above from wtm.uk
International interview Concert, Sunday 17 March – 3pm @artsspaces@sionschool, Gratwicke Road –– Kamila Bydlowska violin & Olga Paliy piano.
Full performance and interviewing conversation, with Guest Interviewer and Ask A Question. Music including Brahms, Scherzo from FAE Sonata; Saint-Saens, Sonata No 1 for Violin & Piano; a selection of Memorable Movie Themes; Frolov, Concert Fantasy on Themes and Songs from Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess.
Book at seetickets.com or buy at the door