Review: Leeds Symphony Orchestra, King James’ School

LSO conductor Martin Binks. (Picture by Chris Midgey)
LSO conductor Martin Binks. (Picture by Chris Midgey)

This was the 50th Leeds Symphony Orchestra concert to be held in King James’s School hall under Martin Binks, its conductor since 1970. We have come to expect enjoyable excellence from them and were not disappointed.

The concert overture was ‘Beatrice and Benedict’ by Berlioz – one of Binks’s favourite composers. No surprise therefore that he drew such exciting sounds out of his players, from shimmering violin tremolo passages through some sprightly dotted rhythms to the final allegro and its triumphant ending.

This was a good start and augured well for the remainder of the programme.

There followed the ever popular Ballet Suite Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. The mood was well set in the opening Scene and the ensuing Valse was attractively played with the strings executing both pizzicato and legato passages with equal ability. The full orchestra produces a great sound – almost too full for a hall barely large enough to allow it to reverberate adequately.

The Danse des Cygnes was played at a good pace, the orchestra capturing well the syncopated rhythms in the following Danse Hongroise. The Danse Espanole provided a special challenge for the young percussion section who rose to it well, as did the trumpeter playing with brilliant clarity in Danse Napolitaine.

The final Mazurka gave the woodwind their chance to shine, the movement bringing the Suite to a fittingly fine ending.

The evening’s highlight was the ‘Concierto del Sur for Guitar’ by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce played by the orchestra’s president, the internationally acclaimed guitarist Craig Ogden. This was a masterly performance accompanied well by a much reduced orchestra under Martin Binks’s sensitive baton. Ogden skilfully showcased the full range of his instrument, both chordal and melodic, amazing his rapt audience that such a wealth of musical sound could come from a single instrument. He exploited to the full the beautiful orchestration of the composer, drawing prolonged applause which was rewarded by an encore guitar solo, the popular Prelude no. 1 by Villa-Lobos.

The concert ended with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition orchestrated by Ravel and here too we were treated to some accomplished playing reflecting the wide variety of moods and colours demanded by the score. The trumpet was again well played in the opening ‘Promenade’ and the movements ranged from the hideously dark ‘Gnomus’ through the squabbling woodwind and calming strings of Tuileries, the lumbering double basses accompanying the tenor tuba in Bydlo, the humorous chirpiness of Chickens in Shells, the demanding but particularly well played ‘Limoges’, through to the sonorous brass in Catacombs and the familiar melodies of The Great Gate of Kiev full of Russian grandeur. An evening to remember.