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  • Writer's pictureSteve Crowther

Concert review: The Academy of St Olave’s, conductor Alan George

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

This rather excellent Academy of St Olave’s concert opened with a performance of Schubert’s Incidental music for Rosamunde. Four shortish movements with an opening, bolted-on, nothing to do with the young lady in question, overture - actually a reworking of an earlier composition, Die Zauberharfe (The Magic Harp). The great man having run out of time to write an original. Well, as I was listening to the music I felt the shadow of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Odd, I know. But it turns out that the ‘lost’ incidental music was unearthed by Sir George Grove and Sir Arthur Sullivan who had gone to Vienna in search of lost Schubert manuscripts in 1867. So there you go.

The Academy of St Olave’s ‘Winter Concert’, York St John University Creative Centre Theatre, Saturday 21st January 2023

This concert in support of the Jessie’s Fund charity celebrated the music of Schubert, Beethoven and Schumann. The opening of Schubert’s Incidental music for Rosamunde did seem a tad tentative, hardly surprising given the occasion, new venue and the new venue’s somewhat dry acoustic. But the Academy quickly got into their stride with a confident Overture brimming with energy and lovely woodwind contributions, dancing gracefully in their many pastoral guises. This is the first time I have heard this pick ’n’ mix of musical treats, and the performance was a delight - warm and dignified (Ballet music in B minor), humming nobility (Entr’acte in D major), decisive tempo shifts and a lovely delivery of that melody (Entr’acte in Bb) and so forth. Then we were suddenly transported to the musical grown-ups’ table with a thrilling performance of Beethoven’s ‘heroic’ Overture Leonore No.3. This is a truly remarkable work, symphonic in scope and depth. The musical journey from dark to light, despair to hope was compellingly conveyed in this focussed, driven performance. The ‘distant’ trumpet call ( signalling the liberation of Florestan and Leonore) was very telling. Following the interval was a chocolatey-rich delivery of Schumann’s wonderful Symphony No.3 (Rhenish). I love this work, indeed I love the musical generosity of this work. And so did the orchestra. Under the assured musical direction of conductor Alan George the performance oozed clarity and confidence. The Rhenish has no introductory welcome, the starting trigger is fired with the players delivering a high-energy, joyful first movement. There was much to admire here, but balance is the key for the necessary clarity, and this performance had it. I particularly enjoyed the quite extraordinary sound world of the fourth “Cathedral Scene”movement, with gorgeous, ecclesiastical (perhaps?) trombone playing. But I will leave the final word to the orchestral leader Claire Jowett. Ms Jowett has performed this vital, always understated, almost unnoticed role for more years than I care to remember (sorry Claire). And yet the importance of leading the strings with such certainty of purpose is integral to the success and confidence of all concerned.

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