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Review: Cardiff Uni Symphony @ St David's Hall

Posted by Weeping Tudor from Cardiff - Published on 22/03/2013 at 12:33
0 comments » - Tagged as Culture, History, Music, People

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Review: Cardiff University Symphony Chorus and Orchestra - Holst's The Planets @ St David's Hall  - Thursday 21th March

This sounded like a fantastic concert in the brochure at St David's. To have both Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, with soprano and Gustav Holst's The Planets sounded very ambitious for a student orchestra. Even a work by Elgar, Spirt of England was included as the centre work.

The piece by Wagner are two 'bleeding chunks' of his five hour opera Tristan and Isolde. Having seen the opera in its entirety, this opening and closing to the opera works well on its own and is a good introduction to the piece. I bet my mother (who was my plus one) that she would love to hear this, even though she is nowhere near as much of a fan of Wagner as I am. She thoroughly enjoyed it, much to my pleasure.

Cardiff born Giselle Allen arrived on stage to sing Isolde's Liedestod in a total jet-black frock. A rather Gothic approach to the work. She was very firm in the role and her German sounded very good. 

As for the work by Elgar, I didn't take to it as much. We had another soprano on stage, Stephanie Corley, and the chorus who belted out very patriotic music by the old English master. I think after winning the rugby, the last thing we want to hear in Wales is Spirt of England, respectively. I have had this issue with Elgar before. He didn't seem to want us to hear the text. The German (I understand some basic German) in Tristan sounded more clear than the English in this. Are you old enough to remember him being on the previous £20 notes? But I still regard his Enigma Variations his masterpiece, possibly. 

But the main event for the evening was Holst's The Planets. This work needs little introduction. It's one of the most popular pieces of classical music and it's certainly one of my favourites. With his obsession with Astrology, Holst has taken each planet in our solar system (bar the sun, moon, earth and undiscovered Pluto at that time) and transformed an orchestra in a complete variety of music. When you listen to this you hear how it influenced the music to Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones and more. There are moments in the first movement, Mars, the bringer of war that sound just like Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star in the first realised Star Wars film. 

Sadly, Holst is a sort of classical one hit wonder, like Carl Orff's Carmina Burana or Scriabin's The Poem of Ecstasy. But this is a work which stands alone as a great orchestral show piece of the 20th Century. His generosity in varying musical styles can appeal to almost anyone and his sense of childlike mischief in the score is downright brilliant.

I normally say that Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age, is my favourite movement. The slow rhythm and the oscillating major 2nd, first heard in Venus now become very damming. It's as if you feel your aging and the fate of death shall be upon you, all whilst stuck in a vortex of time and space. Very deep. The music for strings and tumbler bells evoke a strange scene of clocks never ceasing to mock you. Now that's good orchestral writing.

I Thow To Thee My Country is even featured in Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. That's what Wales wants to hear after the rugby! The last part, Neptune, The Mystic is also a splendid moment, which even features a vocalising female choir as it feels you are drifting of into deep space.

Have a listen to The Planets and let me know which movement you like most. They each have their own charm and flare about them.

Although there were quite a few hiccups in the instrument playing, the students prove their talent in the hope that they will in fact become the orchestral players of tomorrow. I certainly can't play like that, or even at all. 

Are the ready to preform The Rite of Spring? 

Rating: 7/10.

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