Kidderminster Festival Orchestra review


Kidderminster Town Hall ***

Now in its second season, albeit with just two concerts in the town after which it is named, the Kidderminster Festival Orchestra has lost none of its enthusiasm to bring classical music to an area (presumably the Wyre Forest) deemed starved of cultural content. So full marks for the vision and energy of founder/artistic director/conductor Annette Jackson in setting the whole thing up and garnering support.
Apart from funding (lack of which is always the enemy of enterprise) what it needs now is larger audiences attracted by high-standard performances, and programming that blends the familiar with originality. This Spring Concert ticked some of the performance boxes, but other criteria were less successfully achieved.
For this strings-only (plus two woodwind soloists) programme Jackson's selection of works was rooted in familiarity: Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, three Baroque concertos, Holst's St Paul's Suite and, from the novelty box, Elgar's Romance for bassoon and strings, with TKFO's principal bassoonist Ross Cotton a fluent soloist, secure in technique and phrasing.
These qualities were also present in leader Shulah Oliver's account of the Bach A minor Violin Concerto – when they could be heard. Here, as elsewhere, the seventeen-piece ensemble sounded twice its size, and Jackson's wide-travelling, big-beat conducting style seemed to give little attention to subtleties of balance and dynamics.
Gayle Hearn, winner of the first TFKO Young Soloist Platform Prize (an extra plaudit for that initiative), fared somewhat better in Albinoni's Oboe Concerto Op 6 No 2, although even here her sensitive articulation, tonal shading and fabulous breath control only made their presence fully heard in the sublime Adagio.
The one totally convincing item of the evening was Holst's suite, written for the girls' school where he taught and here given a fully professional gloss, with tight articulation, dynamic contrasts you could almost feel (fortissimos in the Intermezzo big enough to fill a cathedral) and a 'jolly hockey-sticks' energy that swept everything along magnificently.
Yet all these efforts attracted just a dozen or so people in the balcony where I was seated and about fifty downstairs. There is clearly a lot of work still to be done.
David Hart

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