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Review 9 May 2015

Beethoven - Egmont Overture

Symphony No 9 "Choral"

Dvorak - Te Deum

Orchestra - Bristol Ensemble, leader Roger Huckle

Conductor - Steven Kings

A full house responded enthusiastically to a varied programme and to performances of the highest quality, opening with Beethoven's Egmont Overture. In this, the conductor Steven Kings demonstrated his ability to get the best out of the orchestra, and the degree of his meticulous preparation of both orchestra and choir became ever more apparent as the evening went on.

The Te Deum is not one of Dvorak's best known works, but the Soprano and Bass soloists (Stephanie Edwards and Edmund Saddington), together with the choir and orchestra, gave a performance which was appealing to those hearing it for the first time. Most memorable were the hushed, mellow men's voices in the slow movement, and the well blended answering phrases between men and women in the third movement.

After the interval we were treated to Beethoven's Choral Symphony in a manner which exceeded all our expectations.  The three orchestral movements were played with great feeling and musicianship, including a sprightly scherzo, and a most tender and moving variation movement.

The high point of the symphony is of course when the four soloists and choir join the orchestra to sing Schiller's Ode to Joy.  Beethoven makes great demands on the choir's stamina and resilience, particularly in the very high repeated-note passages, but the choir answered these demands with full assurance and energy, providing, with the soloists' quartet, a thrilling climax to a great work.

It is regrettable that Thornbury cannot offer a venue which can do justice to a work of this calibre, when the orchestra is required to field such large wind and percussion sections.  The confined space meant that much of the subtlety was lost.

Richard Birdsall