Concert Reviews

A memorable evening of contrasting British music

GSO opened the 2022/23 concert season with a programme of all British music, featuring Elgar's Cello Concerto and Vaughan Williams' London Symphony. We were delighted to welcome back Liubov Ulybysheva as our soloist for a thrilling performance of the landmark concerto.

The concert also included a perfomance of Walton's 'Orb and Sceptre' and Delius' Dance Rhapsody No.2. We are extremely grateful to The Delius Society for their generous support of this concert.

Shelagh Godwin's review below picks out just some of the highlights.  
  • Regarding Elgar's Cello Concerto and Vaughan Williams' London Symphony
  • Appropriately autumnal on a wet November evening was the programme chosen for the Guildford Symphony Orchestra's concert on Saturday 26th November.

    One of several highlights was Elgar's intensely nostalgic Cello Concerto, written when the composer was disillusioned with his life in the wake of the First World War, and not long before the death of his beloved wife. Poignantly the soloist was the young Russian cellist Liubov Ulybysheva, a former winner of the Young Artists competition. Any performance of this great work begs comparison with the iconic performances of Jacqueline du Pre, who made the work her own. But Liubov, with the orchestra under the measured beat of conductor Darrell Davison, achieved a contrasting interpretation, but one just as evocative, as well as faultless in execution.

    Nostalgia also pervaded Vaughan Williams's A London Symphony. This is not a brash introduction to the London scene as is Elgar's Cockaigne, but rather a thoughtful reflection on life in the capital, enhanced by two renderings on the harp of the Westminster chimes. It was poignant too in that, when the original score was lost, the composer was assisted in its reconstruction by his friend George Butterworth, soon to be killed in the Battle of the Somme. Full of lively catchy tunes, and yet with an essence of loneliness in the cor anglais and viola solos in the slow Bloomsbury Square movement, this symphony had us gripped from beginning to end. The orchestra played with crisp discipline, and Darrell Davison carried forward the brisk rhythms superbly, while reading the melancholy passages with great sensitivity.

    A contrast from the melancholy was provided in the opening item, Walton's Orb and Sceptre, written for the late Queen's coronation, performed with great aplomb but not the fastest performance I have heard. Delius's Dance Rhapsody no 2 revealed the widely-travelled, Yorkshire-born composer at his best, with an eclectic style with much of Debussy's tonal palette, yet essentially original and typically Delius in every way. And these qualities were enhanced in the orchestra's excellent performance.

    The Guildford Symphony Orchestra's next concert will be held in Charterhouse Hall, Godalming, on Sunday 26th March, and will include Mendelssohn's ‘Scottish' symphony and a violin concerto by Shostakovitch.
    - Shelagh Godwin


  • Regarding Five Stars
  • Some 55 years ago a university student read with fascination an article about a new violin concerto. She never forgot the four-note opening motif printed in the article. Unable to attend the premiere, she nevertheless desperately wanted to hear the work.

    I was that university student, and last Sunday 26th March 2023 my wish was at last granted. The work in question was Shostakovich's second violin concerto, in the unexpected key of C sharp minor. It was the core work in the Guildford Symphony Orchestra's Spring Classics concert in Charterhouse Hall. Written while the composer was recovering from illness (and allegedly spurred on by a bottle of brandy), the concerto is quite gloomy in mood – the reflection of a Cold War almost gone hot, as conductor Darrel Davison explained. After its contemplative opening, that four-note motif introduced by the cellos and basses, it tears away into passages of incredible virtuosity, not only from the solo violin but from several principals in the orchestra too. Soloist Emmanuel Bach handled the piece magnificently, whether producing a wonderful tone in the long, sad, sinuous melodies or undertaking incredible feats of double stopping. The orchestra were on top form, with expert solo contributions from woodwind and horns. It was truly a memorable performance of a piece which, albeit long, deserved more performances.

    Mendelssohn's ‘Scottish' symphony does not quote any Scottish tunes, the programme notes informed us, but is shot through with a Scottish spirit, perhaps reflecting the life of the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots, but also a stormy coastal scene, a raucous Highland gathering, a putatively bumpy road, and a ruined chapel at Holyrood. Such images calls for tremendous variety of expression, and this the orchestra achieved in full measure. I have never heard the Scherzo played so fast and yet so expertly. There were wonderful contributions from the wind and the brass throughout the symphony, and the horns' introduction of the final melody was particularly impressive.

    This memorable concert began with Brahms's ‘St Anthony' Variations, again a tour de force of instrumental skill concluding with a fine passacaglia in which a countermelody is played again and again with increasing intensity. And, on a lighter note, Reznicek's Donna Diana overture gave another chance for this excellent orchestra to sparkle.
    - Shelagh Godwin


  • Regarding : Guildford Choral and Guildford Symphony Orchestra make splendid comeback
  • Guildford Choral Society and Guildford Symphony Orchestra were in full force at G-Live last Saturday 20th November 2021, to a full house, after an enforced eighteen months without concerts. They began with Brahms's First Symphony, a work which took the composer 22 months to write, so keen was he to match up to his musical hero Beethoven. Indeed he succeeded in doing that: the stirring tune in the last movement, framed by a glorious chorale melody on the horn, makes more than a nod to Beethoven's 9th (performed by the Choral Society before lockdown stopped everything).

    Under Darrell Davison the orchestra did a splendid job: an arresting opening followed by some passages of great emotion. The slow movement evoked some lovely sounds from the orchestra, while the intermezzo, lighter in mood, proved a beautiful diversion. But the finale, with its searching opening leading to the splendid tune, and fraught with imaginative harmonies and instrumentation, really took off.

    While working on the symphony, various tragedies in the composer's life, the death of his mentor Schumann and of his mother some years later, inspired Brahms to write a Requiem. No Latin Mass for this agnostic composer with a Lutheran background (the text comes from the Lutheran Bible), but an eloquent German text reflecting the human condition. From the outset the chorus sang with great conviction under Jonathan Willcocks's direction: although the sopranos were slightly under the note in some exposed passages, and we could have heard more from the altos in their great fugal lead ‘Herr, du bist würdig', somewhat drowned by some wonderful clarinet playing! The big fugal movements, particularly the one in the third movement over a pedal note ‘Die gerechten Seelen', were indeed thrilling, and there were some tender moments in the central movement ‘Wie lieblich', beloved of wedding couples. The orchestra played with aplomb, and the woodwind and the brass were particularly striking. Full marks to the flutes, one of whom switched to piccolo for one of the most dramatic episodes depicting the Last Judgement.

    The choir and orchestra were served by two noteworthy soloists: bass Michael Ronan sang stylishly, and Louise Fuller, a late replacement, produced a wonderfully mellow tone in ‘Ihr habt non Traurigkeit', in many ways the centerpiece of the work and the last movement to be written.

    In every way, this was a memorable concert.
    - Shelagh Godwin