Worthing Symphony Orchestra, Ode to Spring, Assembly Hall Worthing, March 6th, 2016
Two symphonies bookended this as-ever adventurous ensemble’s concert under charismatic, communicative John Gibbons, enclosing two piano-and-orchestra works played by the great Idil Biret, great-grand-pupil of Chopin.
Schumann’s First Symphony is his most compact and tautly-argued, lending it a thrusting urgency. You’d hardly think it his first mature orchestral piece, so thrilling is its burst of rising fifth, falling third, a motif dominating ripe horns of Spring, its subject, where clarinets hesitate, echoing strings.
Franck’s once-popular Symphonic Variations for Piano-and-orchestra recall organ rolls in waves of sonority, but mystically-centred this reveals itself a profound, layered work, ripe for new fame: Biret nailed this with force, poetry, dizzying precision. Such brevity and compactness also militate against the Chopin’s programming: the Andante Spinato played solo, magically, the Grand Polonaise with the orchestra, melding both versions where Biret forces pace, leaping at the polonaise rhythm.
Finally the rarity. Edmund Rubbra’s Fourth Symphony is his most popular, though he wrote even finer ones later. This 1941 work he conducted at the Proms in battledress, and its wartime mix of serenity, anticipating Vaughan Williams’ Fifth at its opening, and its Wagnerian chill preluding the last movement build to bell-like perorations of hope, enclose a work by turns magical, forceful, almost too big for this concert hall.