PCO: Serenades In The City

Conductor Jessica Gethin and leader Paul Wright steered a well-schooled string ensemble through a program of excellent music drawn from a wide repertoire.
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Perch Chamber Orchestra’s Serenades In The City at Government House Ballroom. Photograph via PSO.

Hosted by Ros Appleby, well-known journalist, music critic and author, Serenades In The City was a delight. Conductor Jessica Gethin and leader Paul Wright steered a well-schooled string ensemble through a program of excellent music drawn from a wide repertoire.

In fact, I suspect that there would be people in the audience who had not heard most of the offerings before.

The concert was informal, as a Sunday morning concert might suggest, with the predominantly female performers dressed in pastels and florals. The musicians – apart from the delightful harpist, Catherine Ashley – were obliged to stand for the entire concert (and most of them were wearing high heels, Ouch!)

The first half began with Britten’s Simple Symphony, Opus 4, a work with a lot of variety. One section has distinct overtones of a hornpipe and I must admit that I had trouble keeping my feet still. Timing is all important in this work, due to the short phrases and unexpected pauses. Pizzicato, also a feature, was very well done!  It would have been easy for an under-rehearsed ensemble to make mess of this work, but the PCO seemed to walk – or maybe dance – through the difficulties.

Next came Elgar’s Sospiri – Adagio for String Orchestra and Harp, Op. 70. Sospiri means ‘sigh’ and it certainly was a melancholy piece of work.  It was presented as a reflection on the works of Degas. Two lovely young dancers, Kirsty Clarke and Sara Ouwendyk, brought the artist’s work to mind with their graceful ports de bras – and costumes straight out of the Romantic Era. Mention must be made here of the other guest artist, painter Ben Brennan, who paid tribute to Degas by sketching the young dancers.

Glazunov’s Theme and Variations for String Orchestra, Op.97 closed the first half. It was a long program, with each half lasting close on an hour. That meant the audience was well and truly ready for the delightful lunch provided in the interval.

The inner man and woman being satisfied and Dionysus duly honoured via champagne, everyone was ready for further musical enjoyment. 

It was a pleasant surprise to hear the first item – a work I’ve never heard before by a little-known composer, Australia’s Margaret Sutherland. This woman was undoubtedly a trail blazer. Even today, female composers are few and far between, but fifty years ago the very idea of a woman writing music was scorned. They could be players, they could be teachers – but creators? Good heavens no.

In her Concerto for String Orchestra, Sutherland has left us an intricate, intelligent and expressive composition, and PCO did the composer proud in their interpretation.

The one piece in the program that all of us would have heard many times before was Vaughan Williams’s much-loved Fantasia on Greensleeves. This is based on what is probably the best-known and most popular of all English folk songs, and Vaughan Williams cleverly off-set it by adding another,  much less well known, companion by switching between the Greensleeves melody and that of another English folk song ‘Lovely Joan’.

I couldn’t help but laugh at Vaughan Williams’s humour here – Greensleeves is about a lover who cannot have the lady of his dreams because she is obviously just stringing him along. And ‘Lovely Joan’ tells the tale of a farm girl who robs a nobleman of his horse and his valuable ring when he tries to bribe her into having a romp in the hay with him. The dancers again graced us with their lovely presence for this item.

To end the program we sat back and enjoyed the closing movement of a much-loved Tchaikovsky work, Serenade for Strings, Op.48. At last the musicians could get rid of those high heels!

Speaking of high heels, our lovely conductor, the tall, graceful and willowy Jessica Gethin, is a bit of a dancer herself. Now and then she does an echappé to second position, always in time with the music, jumping back when the music changes again. Maybe next time we could have a pas de trois from Jessica, Kirsty and Sara!

Thank you, Perth Chamber Orchestra, for another most enjoyable presentation.

5 stars out of 5

Serenades in the City 

A musical Champagne brunch
Perth Chamber Orchestra
Government House Ballroom

Carol Flavell Neist
About the Author
Carol Flavell Neist  has written reviews and feature articles for The Australian, The West Australian, Dance Australia, Music Maker, ArtsWest and Scoop, and has also published poetry and Fantasy fiction. She also writes fantasy fiction as Satima Flavell, and her books can be found on Amazon and other online bookshops.
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