A concert Ďcelebrating women in musicí was the premise behind the latest offering from south Londonís newest symphony orchestra, Harmony Sinfonia, taking place in Brockley on Saturday 20th November. The venue, St. Peterís on Wickham Road, a magnificently wide arts and crafts church away from the main drag and pull of this up and coming corner of Lewisham, provided a suitable platform for a night of romantic gestures and intricate posturing, often boiling up with passion and contrastingly restrained where called for, just like the heroines and protagonists on the programmeÖ
Opening with a choice selection of greatest hits from Bizetís Carmen (providing an endurance test for the lead trumpet, admirably held by Ross Bridges) the (decent size) audience were treated to some fiery playing throughout, showing off the immense mix of amateur and professional talent contained within the group. The younger members of the audience were entertained in the more lively numbers and I so longed for a throng of Toreadors to appear towards the climax, such was the power of the ensemble you could imagine them playing the whole opera with absolutely no problem.
Following on from this wordless prowess, we were introduced to the featured soloist, soprano Lynsey Docherty, here to perform Straussís Four Last Songs; one of his most personal works, the orchestra needed to employ a different sensibility to approaching this work, but, at times, the excitement that had been built up during the Bizet seemed to persist, drowning Miss Docherty frequently. Perhaps a reduced ensemble to allow both the instrumental and vocal forces to meld together more naturally would have helped; it did feel like a competition at times, unfortunately. The crystal-clear playing from leader Simon Hewitt Jones and Jon Cooley on horn melodiously complimented Miss Dochertyís sensitive rendering of the German text (well, as sensitive as you can be singing German). The hushed final strains of the last song (Im Abendrot (ĎAt Sunsetí)) were a relief, if Iím honest; conductor Lindsay Ryan and the other Lynsey had obviously put in a lot of work in preparing this item, but I couldnít help feeling that it somehow became lost in translation.
After the interval, we were treated to the best playing of the evening in Rimsky-Korsakovís Scheherazade. The scale and sweep of the work suited the orchestra well, allowing many of its talented soloists (many of them women) to shine in the famous melodic passages, particularly Isobel Williams (oboe), Sharon Moloney (flute) and Eloise Carpenter (bassoon) Ė the frequent interactions between the fluttering solo violin and exotic harp (care of Murdo Macrae) were exquisite and a highlight of the evening for me. I could tell that the players felt on much stronger ground with this piece than the Strauss; all credit due to Lindsay Ryan for navigating the stormy seas of this masterwork and bringing this classic slice of Russian Romanticism to vivid life in sleepy south London.
Having only been in existence for just over a year, I look forward to witnessing the maturing of this exciting young orchestra over time Ė and with Borodin and Enescu on future programmes, whatís not to look forward to?