For the final concert of the current MUMS students, and the last concert in their week long Estival, the Symphony orchestra played the year out in superb style.
For many this evening it was their last chance to perform as part of Manchester University as they await the results of their degrees and look forward to work or further training in September. MUMS [Manchester University Music Society] will continue next year but with newer students.
This evening however, they were not maudlin or downhearted, but, instead the atmosphere was light and productive as thank yous were said and presentations given.
The programme of music chosen for their farewell concert was very interesting, and surprisingly played through without interval, meaning the concert finished much earlier than expected. Not that that mattered.
Three pieces were performed in total, and four different conductors also took their last time on the stand as university students.
The first, Dream Children, was typical Elgar. And under some nicely controlled conducting the swells and sustained notes were very effective. Once you have heard the unmistakeable and unique sound of Elgar strings you cannot unhear them. The work is in two short movements. The first, slow and melancholic and the second a country dance. the origins of this composition unclear, but they are nevertheless lovely pieces, which seldom get to be heard as quite understandably Elgar's oeuvre is large and his longer, more substantial pieces tend to get much more air-time.
After this, and to a work I had previously no knowledge. English composer Elizabeth Maconchy's Nocturne'. It was a very atmospheric and dramatic work, and started with a repetitive 2-note theme which gradually build in volume and intensity, this then suddenly giving was to a solo violin and harp before developing further. The harp actually playing a very dominant role in this composition. This piece however was more of a nightmare than a nocturne; and certainly not a piece of music to put one in the mood for sleep. Instead it is a rather disturbing piece with huge crashes and frightening crescendos. With the conductor's long, graceful sweeping strokes gently bringing the whole down to a diminuendo and soft, quiet end.
For their final piece, a symphony in four movements (2 conductors conducting 2 movements each) and the symphony in question; Ralph Vaughan Williams' 5th. Vaughan Williams wrote 9 and a half symphonies before he died. and after his so-called 'Sea Symphony' (his 9th) this is my second favourite. It is also quiet a short symphony too, and is often seen to be his quintessentially 'English' work. I however disagree. If you listen closely to the melodies and structures one can quite clearly hear both Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky in there! It is a work of beauty but also quite dark in places too. From the slow and lyrical start through a triumphal march-like middle section to the ending of the first movement being left unresolved, we know that we are not in 'happyville'. The second movement jaunty Prokofiev-esque cheekiness brings back the joy, whilst the third movement starts with what can only be described as one of the most beautiful and haunting largo string passages ever written - if it hadn't have been spoilt by the entry of brass and woodwind that is! With a lovely violin cadenza the third movement has a pure harmonic finish . The tumultuous fourth movement flirts with pomposity as the dynamics and mood of the piece change from loud and proud to soft and gentle constantly but Vaughan Williams knows his public and brings the work to a wonderfully quiet, plaintive and harmonic string-filled conclusion.
The orchestra were in fine voice tonight, and this was indeed a very English, but very fitting finale to both the week-long Estival and the whole year of over 50 concerts given by MUMS.
Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 8/6/18