REVIEW: Classic Heroes Concert, Worthing Symphony Orchestra

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WAS Mozart among the first jazz composers?

Young Julian Bliss got me wondering that during the finale of his performance of Mozart’s immortal and magical Clarinet Concerto with Worthing Symphony Orchestra, in the penultimate concert of their current series.

In his piano concertos, Mozart’s right hand does lots of cheeky things that are improvisational – which is what jazz essentially is.

The single line of the clarinet takes up this spirit and injects its own personality – providing the soloist is so inclined and recognises this potential.

And, after its genial first movement and its heavenly second, the playful third – as conductor John Gibbons writes in his ever-illuminating programme notes – is also “suave”.

Much of jazz is suave.

Benny Goodman recorded this concerto.

Julian Bliss also plays jazz.

He probably knows Goodman’s interpretation but all Bliss said to me as he stepped down from the stage after the morning rehearsal: “I try to lift my performance away from the routine so the audience has something to remember.”

Later, after taking his bows, he said: “It’s great to be able to play a piece like this without having to worry too much – then you can start having fun.”

Rehearsal over, he then went on a lunchtime jaunt in jeans and polo short down town and to the promenade, smelled the sea and sampled Montague Square with its jangling children’s steel band and smiling shoppers, and also Davorin the moody Croatian Stratocaster street guitarist.

He then came back the Assembly Hall and performed the Mozart to the delight, joy and enthusiastic reception of all.

Control

“I’ve never seen anyone play the clarinet that well so effortlessly,” said one of the WSO stalwart musicians.

All afternoon, Bliss missed just one note, which can happen when you breathe moisture into a musical instrument.

His control was absolute, his passage work like Cornish Cream, his humour perky and his romancing blissful.

“Can you play the Bliss Clarinet Concerto,” Gibbons had asked him, eyes a-twinkle after rehearsal.

He was, of course, referring to that by Sir Arthur Bliss.

Julian was playing a modern basset clarinet, which is longer because, beyond the standard design, it has the four extra bass notes Mozart actually composed for, with his vehicle the original basset instrument of Anton Stadler.

The concert began with The Arrival of The Queen of Sheba, from Handel’s opera Solomon, in an arrangement for full classical orchestra.

I thought the horns and other woodwind clouded the crisp simplicity and evocative quasi-authenticity of the original, in which the mysterious monarch arrives to the excited accompanied of strings and the fanfares of two lone oboes (which are modern versions of the kind of thing heard around the ancient middle eastern royal courts).

The woodwind had their inimitable Mendelssohnian chatter in his Scherzo from his incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with guest principal flautist Anna Noakes especially on her toes.

And after the Clarinet Concerto, Gibbons closed the concert with another display of the sheer quality of the WSO in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.

Here the oboe of Christopher O’Neal, of the Germanic School in oboe sound, was unerring in its many telling moments during this revolutionary third symphony of the composer.

Gibbons’ reading did not temper or tamper.

The music has more than enough inherent power and impact.

We’re talking here the longest opening symphonic movement ever written at the time - by 50 per cent, maybe.

One of the greatest funeral marches known.

One of the most memorable scherzos (the horns of Richard Steggall, Tim Locke and Caroline O’Connel took their trio briskly).

And a fugal symphonic finale forecast in scope, conciseness and accomplishment only by that in Mozart’s final symphony, named Jupiter.

Jubilee concert

Gibbons and the WSO will wrap up their season on a Saturday, May 26, with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert at 7.30pm.

Tchaikovsky’s glorious first piano Concerto brings back Ian Fountain.

Kol Nidrei by Bruch introduces Sussex cellist Laura Van Der Heijden (is that a Dutch version of Haydn?).

Walton’s Crown Imperial will pay royal tribute, as will Anthony Collins’ Festival Royal Overture.

And in summation, Elgar’s Enigma Variations will encapsulate an intimate ingredient of British social life with its affectionate echoes of someone’s friendships and acquaintances.

The Nicola Benedetti, president of the Worthing Symphony Society, to begin the new season, will play Bruch’s beloved first violin concerto on September 2, after she will have made two major appearances at the BBC Proms.

And I hear sports presenter John Inverdale could be back at New Year for another narration job in the family concert.

His script could be by Prokofiev.

Richard Amey