Cardiff University Symphony Chorus & Orchestra, Hoddinott Hall

November 25, 2018 by
It’s lovely to see the musicians from Cardiff University get the chance to perform in Hoddinott Hall once in a while. This home base for BBC NOW is usually their turf, but it is good to see student orchestras get the chance to perform in what has for over ten years been established an acoustically brilliant concert venue.
This evening with Cardiff Uni musicians would look at women composers and the big anniversaries in 2018. Grażyna Bacewicz and her Overture was a formidable opener. This Polish composer is a rare find for today’s canon, though the Overture made for a strong start for the instrumentalists, leading to a stirring conclusion. The Trombone Concerto by Arlene Sierra followed, with the world premiere of this orchestration. Here is a moody concerto, with excitable parts for orchestra as the soloists get to scorn and drone on. Katy Jones took the solo part with a vigour, rousing proof that musical instruments should be so gendered.
A Welsh connection came next with the Nocturne by Morfydd Owen. This young female composer who died tragically young 100 years ago, is finally getting the recognition she deserves thanks to Blue Plagues upon both houses were she was born and died so. The promised of a great music career is proven in her Nocturne, here played with an atmospheric vision from the students. There are flickers of Wagner and the emerging French wave that would take over the musical world in the 1900s, yet there is rarely a section which doesn’t not cease on its journey onto the next musical plateau. It has some telling passages, though as a whole does not quite make the mark for me.
The 100th birthday of American composer Leonard Bernstein is here honoured with a performance of his Chichester Psalms. Commissioned by Reverend Walter Hussey, Bernstein had full permission to make a jazzy choral work for the town’s festival. Utilising Hebrew for the words of selected Psalms, the work blows the audience away with its approach. The funk of the opening movement is followed by a moving solo for male soprano in the second and the third culminating in attempts of peace and tranquility. Even with the odd mistake from a few musicians, this was a telling performance, made all the more special by the lack of his music being done in Wales this year.
Ending with another big state side master, the concert concluded with a selection of Old American Songs by Aaron Copland. This brief set of four songs from the two larger sets defines the American sound, by using as a base the hymns, spirituals and native music which existed in their musical landscape. He makes these text and melodies and makes them his own, as is proven by his acclaimed version of Simple Gifts, a shaker medley, here made all the more humble with the chorus taking their time and feeling the melodic line.
I bought me a cat is basically like a musical toy teaching children what each noise an animal makes (it ends with a wife though), with some comedic effort as the grunts, quacks and snorts from the singers are complemented by the lower woodwind. At the River is another evocative song with Biblical connotations.
 It’s sincerity and gentle mood makes for great listening. The minstrel song Ching-a-ring-chaw (Copland was ahead of his time taking out all offensive slang) is a bouncy end to the night, leading to an encore of I bought me a cat, just because we love it so much the first time. Though the first half of the evening was mixed (though highly interesting) the American big boys in the second half made for a great concert experience.
Want to hear more Bernstein? Weeping Tudor Productions present Bernstein Bash! at St Edward’s Church, Cardiff on Saturday 1st December 2018. Join us for songs from West Side Story, Candide and other shows. Expect recital songs and also stimulating piano piece. Join us for the rumble! Book here:
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