A perfect match for Philomusica
THE town was invaded by Oxford at the weekend, with Oxford United playing at Whaddon Road and Oxford Philomusica at the Town Hall.
I was expecting the Philomusica to be of a modest size, but it turned out to be a fully-fledged symphony orchestra making possibly only its second visit to Cheltenham under its founder and music director Marios Papadopoulos.
The opening work, Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, was a trifle disappointing. It didn't sound sufficiently classical, and the outer movements were taken at too brisk a pace, Only in the Larghetto did I sense the Haydnesque touch Prokofiev was seeking.
But when Natalie Clein appeared on stage with her cello the atmosphere moved up several notches. She is a passionate and committed player, and Saint-Saens' dazzling First Cello Concerto seemed tailor-made for her.
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She tore into the swirling opening theme, ably abetted by the orchestra, before giving a deeply moving account of the more lyrical second subject.
There was some delicate orchestral playing in the dainty minuet and excellent rapport between soloist and orchestra in the finale. Natalie followed this with a gentle encore: Song of the Birds by Pablo Casals.
There is nothing gentle about the opening to Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. The brass blasted out the Fate motif and from then on the audience was taken on a roller coaster musical ride.
Yet there were also moments of quiet reflection: an Andantino full of nostalgia and a Scherzo marked by superb pizzicato playing.
Mario Papadopolous, conducting without a score, skilfully built up the tension from quiet beginnings to furious climaxes but never sacrificing clarity for the sake of effect.
While in no position to comment on Oxford United's playing, after hearing such a magnificent performance of Tchaikovsky I would certainly regard Oxford Philomusica as Premier League – and its brass section as world class.