Featured image: Madeleine Retter – Artistic Director of the Chamber Series

The last of this year’s Willoughby Symphony Orchestra Chamber series was a most exciting concert combing Schulhoff’s ( arr Tarkmann) Suite for Chamber Music and Stravinsky’s suite from THE SOLDIER”S TALE. Dynamically conducted by Luke Spicer , both works are scored in somewhat unusual arrangements for bassoon, clarinet. violin, trumpet ,trombone , double bass and percussion.

Both works were introduced by Maria Lindsay , guest concertmaster of the WSO.

First we heard the Schulhoff ( 1894 – 1942) coming to us from the smoky jazz dens and Weimar Cabaret of 1920’s Berlin.  Erwin Schulhoff was a Czech composer and pianist. He was one of the figures in the generation of European musicians whose successful careers were prematurely halted by the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany and whose works are now regarded as rather obscure and rarely performed . It was Schulhoff’s first successful jazz piece for orchestra , with astringent dissonances and bitonality.

In seven short movements it is full of light hearted fun with bright and bubbly, infectious dance melodies , including a sultry sinuous tango section with a luscious ‘hot’ and slithery clarinet and catchy rhythms. Some of it however is far more melancholy and lyrical , pulsating and whirling. There is a ragtime waltz as well . There are also perhaps hints of Ravel’s work and Walton’s Façade .

Look out for the use of a tambourine , a whistle and also a car horn among other items.

The orchestra obviously had much fun playing this and the audience greatly enjoyed it .

The second half was the suite of Stravinsky’s darkly exuberant THE SOLDIER”S TALE . The story describes a soldier’s encounters with the Devil and his various adventures that follow. The soldier has a magic violin which he trades with the Devil who promises to fulfil his every wish. He becomes wealthy with stockmarket tips and one of his many encounters involves his curing a beautiful princess but the Devil is far more wily …  

It first premiered in 1918 and the ‘fully staged ‘version  includes a narrator , actors and dancers as well . It is a morality tale , the twist being that the Soldier does get his soul back, but never learns his lesson, so loses it again .

This version by the WSO Chamber orchestra had rather a decadent , cultivated cabaret atmosphere more than chilling folk tale. We become aware of its comment on financial greed and there are hints dramatically and musically, of the composer’s later The Rake’s Progress.

Spicer led the orchestra in a high power performance of this striking work .It began with an explosive blast from the trombone and trumpet leading to the impish soldier’s march and featured fiery slinky violin, an alluring tango , bubbling clarinet and crashing dramatic sections that changed to sombre and more church like ones.Lindsay was adroit and nimble in her virtuoso solos .There was a fast and furious drum solo by Timothy Brigden that led the work to an intense , dynamic finale.    

The Willoughby Symphony Chamber Orchestra in THE SOLDIER’S TALE was for one performance only 12 August 2018 at the Zenith Theatre.

Conductor Luke Spicer 
Violin Maria Lindsay 
Clarinet Amy Whyte 
Bassoon Anthony Grimm
Double Bass Daniel Dean 
Trumpet David Johnson
Trombone Arthur Johnson 
Percussion Timothy Brigden