A regal edge to ESO’s concert

On Sunday 11 October, Eastbourne’s own orchestra was in fine form at St Saviour’s Church. An imaginative programme enabled Graham Jones to display his forces’ strengths.

The opening march by William Walton, ‘Orb and Sceptre’, was written for the coronation of our present Queen. Its fanfares showed the brass in good breath, and the strings well tuned under their leader, Lisa Wigmore.

The next two short items, however, were particularly exciting. Had I been told they were recently discovered works by Delius I should not have questioned the attribution. In reality, however, delightful evocations of Windover Hill and the Priory at Wilmington were part of a 1950 composition by Charles Lucas. The ‘Wilmington Suite’ captured the atmosphere of the Sussex Downs in a finely-judged performance.

John Ireland’s Downland Suite is a better known composition by another Sussex resident. The composer lived near Steyning, and my sole disappointment was that we heard only the minuet. Time had to be allowed, presumably, for Handel’s ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’. The soloist, David Force, was loudly applauded for his rhythmical performance, and the orchestra retired for the interval rightly pleased.

This year lovers of Sibelius are celebrating the 150th anniversary of his birth, so the choice of possibly his most popular symphony, the second, was apt. It’s a demanding work. The strings must be able to hold their tuning, whether at full volume or at a whisper. The brass can make no mistakes as their part is crucial to the dynamic excitement. The most difficult demand, however, is that the entire orchestra must be aware of the structure, as snatches of melody build and build to exciting climaxes and blazing tunes. In the very best performances the listener almost has the feeling that his entire world is occupied by magical sounds that creep in to build successively a sort of Valhalla of powerful melody. Conductor Graham Jones had done his work well, and this work received a performance which makes one agree with assessments that Sibelius is one of the greatest of symphonists.