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A truly remarkable performance

Laura van der Heijden rehearsing with the orchestra
Laura van der Heijden rehearsing with the orchestra

Maidstone Symphony Orchestra

Mote Hall, Maidstone, October 12

The prospect of hearing Britten in the Mote Hall, Maidstone, conjures up visions of the Moot Hall at Aldeburgh, but the bleak concrete Leisure Centre could hardly be less romantic.

Happily, once the lights are switched off, the Maidstone Symphony Orchestra adds a touch of magic and we are in a concert hall for the start of their new season.

Each concert includes a concerto with a young musician and it will surely be difficult for the other soloists this season to have quite the impact that Laura van der Heijden achieved last Saturday in the Elgar Cello Concerto.

The unusually slow, hushed opening was foretaste of what was to come. Where so many soloists find melancholy or even despair in these pages, here we had the joy that autumn can bring; sudden tiny bursts of sunlight in the mist, minute changes of tone and colour, gone before we could pin them down.

As the first movement drew towards its close she brought a coolness, even a playfulness to the phrasing which was deeply moving.

The second movement was clean and warm but never indulgent.

Those of us used to a heady amount of portamento here may have been struck by the almost classical impact of the melodic line.

This led to a noble opening for the final movement and a sparky conclusion. The return to the opening theme was a memory, not a fulfillment.

When we recall that Laura van der Heijden was named BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2012 and is only 16 now, this was a truly remarkable performance. I look forward to hearing her again soon.

The evening had opened with Britten’s Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes. There was real tension in the wind and a rawness in the brass which was very effective, supported by secure strings.

The acoustic is good but exposes solo parts so that the tiniest details can be heard. Individual woodwind entries in the storm scene were unexpectedly clear and the impact of the percussion brighter than usual.

After the interval we heard Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony. If there had been any thought that the shrill wind and rasping brass had been endemic to the orchestra, the lush, highly romantic sounds produced here showed the range of tone the orchestra can produce.

The string sound became more positive and lush and the horns warm and rounded. The trembling solo horn with the harp was particularly effective at the opening of the second movement.

The final movement was furious in pace and Brian Wright held his forces together with aplomb, bringing all of us to a triumphant conclusion.

Dr Brian Hick

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