Review: Leeds Symphony Orchestra, St Chad’s, Headingley, Saturday, March 2, 2019

THE LSO’s brass section opened this concert in shining style with the Fanfare originally composed by Paul Dukas in 1910 for his Ballet La Peri. Wagner’s Overture to Rienzi likewise makes a rousing and popular concert opener. It was played with panache by the full orchestra, conducted by Martin Binks - with absolutely no respite for the brass section.

Guitarist Craig Ogden then made his entrance for the evening’s centrepiece. Joaquin Rodrigo is best known for his Concierto de Aranjuez (1939). On this occasion however, Craig had chosen to give the last of Rodrigo’s three guitar concertos a rare outing. The Concierto para una Fiesta (1982) speaks to us in the same appealing musical language as its famous predecessor. Craig Ogden is a frequent collaborator with the LSO. He is a popular artist whose innate musicality makes Rodrigo’s virtuosic writing quite irresistible. Martin Binks’ meticulous direction achieved consistent balance with the soloist and within the sections of the orchestra.

This very week sees the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz, one of Martin Binks’ great musical passions. So what better way to end than with the Symphonie Fantastique. Martin’s love of this youthful masterpiece shone like a beacon through the dense orchestration. The poise and beauty of the strings and woodwind in the opening movement, and the whirling elegance of The Ball with its rippling passage work for the harps left a deep impression. The third movement’s beautifully shaped shepherd’s piping seemed to hang in the air. Berlioz’ richly inventive depictions of the March to the Scaffold and the Dream of a Witches Sabbath deployed the full orchestral panoply including the heavy brass, thunderous drum rolls, tubular bells and growling bassoons. Meanwhile, the violins and violas are directed to tap with the wood of the bow to depict the clackety sound of dancing skeletons. Martin Binks and his Orchestra appeared to be enjoying themselves immensely. So too were the audience, as demonstrated by the noisily enthusiastic applause at the end of this fine performance.

Geoffrey Mogridge