review details
 •  21 September 2007 - St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast
Ulster Orchestra

Copland Fanfare for the Common Man, Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs, Beethoven Symphony No. 9, Choral

  • Orchestra begins new season in style

    The inaugural concert of the Ulster Orchestra's new season began with a rousing success in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.

    Tickets had long sold out to see Kenneth Montgomery's first concert last Friday as the new principal conductor for the Orchestra.

    Kenneth, a native of Belfast, led the players with a graceful and confident energy through a programme of Copland, Vaughan Williams, and Beethoven.

    The opening clash of percussion and brass seemed to shake the rafters of St Anne's as the orchestra launched into Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Hugely dramatic, it was an uplifting and joyous celebration that set the mood for the evening.

    The orchestra was then joined on-stage by the English bass-baritone Matthew Hargreaves and the Belfast Philharmonic Choir for a riveting performance of Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs. Hargreaves has a fine voice, rich in timbre and with a clear, steady vibrato. However, as with many bass-baritone roles, his part was occasionally absorbed by the textural forces of the orchestra and choir.

    The reverberant acoustics of St Anne's added an extra touch of colour to the choir of a hundred voices. Under the expert tutelage of the chorusmaster Christopher Bell, the choir's artistic standard continues to grow.

    Beethoven's cherished Symphony No 9 closed the evening, with soprano Rebecca Nash, mezzo-soprano Anna Burford, and tenor Joshua Elliott also taking to the stage to join the other performers. Depending on where you were sitting, the textures of the piece were either crisp clear or, occasionally, a little muddy. Nevertheless, the sense of drama and vibrancy was impossible to ignore. The intimacy and idealism of the event left the audience enthusiastic and visibly satisfied. A promising start to the season.

    Rathcol / Belfast Telegraph, 25/09/07

  • Polished concert an ideal start ot exciting season

    In the splendid surroundings of St Anne's Cathedral the Ulster Orchestra's first concert of the season was an outstanding success. Under the direction of new principal conductor Kenneth Montgomery, the Ulster Orchestra, the Belfast Philharmonic Choir and four excellent soloists provided the audience with a polished programme full of variety and colour.


    Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man was a suitably high impact opener. This brief, yet stirring work, played brilliantly by the brass and percussion sections, set the scene and a real sense of occasion.


    Vaughan William's delightful and diverse Five Mystical Songs came next. Soloist Matthew Hargreaves gave a characterful and expressive performance of each song.

    His diction was good and his voice carried well in the large acoustic.

    The Belfast Philharmonic Choir was in very good shape and their focused singing was most impressive, particularly in the extremes of dynamic range. There was some interesting interplay between choir, soloist and orchestra and the fifth in the set, Let all the world in every corner sing, was tremendously uplifting.


    Beethoven's Choral Symphony gave us an exciting and exuberant second half. Montgomery set a very fast tempo from the outset and his clear beat gave a super drive to the symphony.

    The orchestra seemed happy with the speed and there was some magnificent playing, particularly from the strings. There were minor lapses of ensemble and occasional flaws in the brass section but the great resonance of the building disguised these well.

    The slow movement exuded passages of great warmth and the last was played with no less conviction than the first.

    Soloists Rebecca Nash soprano, Anna Burford mezzo soprano, Joshua Elliott tenor and Matthew Hargreaves bass-baritone acquitted themselves very well and the Belfast Philharmonic were in sparkling form. This is a choir that has been transformed under the direction of chorus-master Christopher Bell. They were polished, energetic and a delight to listen to. What an ideal start to an exciting season.

    Ruth McCartney / Irish News, 24/09/07

  • A Tale of Two Finales

    ... Montgomery's direction of the orchestra, choir and soloists was secure and passionate, and brought about an intense and reassured performance from the orchestra, elevating an audience already charged with the echoes of Vaughan Williams' Antiphon.

    ... Montgomery produced a fantastic performance from the orchestra, allowing the audience to hear every nuance of material, regardless of the vast acoustics.

    But the crowning achievement of the evening was without doubt the Ode an die Freude or 'Ode to Joy'. Montgomery did not disappoint, and the orchestra provided an equally full-bodied performance, aided by the solo quartet of singers. ...
    It was said that at the end of the original performance of the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven needed to be turned around at the end because he could not hear the audience applaud him at its close. There was no need for Kenneth Montgomery to be aided on this occasion, as the audience's appreciation at the end of the performance was obvious to all. For me, this concert was a tale of two finales, it was the best of times, it was the best of times.

    Graeme Stewart /, 25/09/07

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