Concert Review

Richard Strauss Alpine Symphony and Orchestral Songs Trinity College of Music at Blackheath Halls, 5 July 2000


The secret must soon out! Seen&Heard has been telling the world that student music making is nowadays of a standard to challenge regular professional organisations, which are fraught with financial difficulties that not infrequently compromise quality performance. I do not hope, nor need, to hear a better performance of the Alpine Symphony (it was one of those relatively few works that I had promised myself to avoid - the last minute chance taken to hear it arose from the indisposition of our scheduled specialist reviewer on the night).

Everything conspired for its success, save for a deplorably small audience, not that many more than the 130 strong orchestra. Blackheath Great Hall was the ideal venue, fully restored to its glory of a hundred years and more ago, finished with rich burgundy hangings and with muted warm lighting, just right for Richard Strauss at his most sumptuous. The acoustics were perfect, cowbells sounding just as they do on the Swiss (Bavarian) Alps, the wind machine sounding like real wind, which never happens in the RFH, a sonorous organ to support the mass of strings and lower brass given full throat at the climaxes, the quiet concentration of a huge orchestra playing pianissimo especially moving in the epilogue.

Peter Stark, a renowned orchestral trainer and Professor of Conducting, was the calm Alpine guide, steering his climbers securely up to the top, through the storm, and safely down for an expedition which spanned a single day, and had taken Strauss 100 days to complete prior to its 1915 premiere. It was preceded by a group of songs given in turn by five young student singers, who had thoroughly absorbed Strauss's lyric soprano style and were sensitively nursed by Peter Stark, who brought out from the Trinity Symphony Orchestra just the right delicacy and romantic sonority.

Trinity College of Music is preparing to move from the West End into historic premises of the former Naval College at Greenwich  (pictured below)- a presence which is certain to make an enormous contribution to South East London's musical life. This concert showcased in fine style what local residents may expect upon their doorstep - will they learn to come?

The concert will be repeated tomorrow in Brighton at St Bartholomew's Church where it will surely raise the roof again; only an hour from Victoria by train for those who did not make it to Blackheath!

Peter Grahame Woolf

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