BERLIOZ AND SAINT-SAENS
Essex Symphony Orchestra in Chelmsford Cathedral
Saint-Saens' magnificent Organ Symphony was the climax of this feast of French romanticism, relocated from Christ Church to the Cathedral for the occasion.
A robustly eloquent performance from the ESO under Tom Hammond. The expressive Poco Adagio was exquisitely played – the strings [leader Phillipa Barton] and the organ [Laurence Lyndon-Jones] blending to excellent effect. The Maestoso finale was tautly handled, with the piano duet played by two more of the Cathedral's music staff, James Davy and Rosie Vinter.
After the Overture, Berlioz's Roman Carnival, starting with a solemn procession and ending with exuberant cymbals and tambourine, we heard a rare treat. Les Nuits d'Été – Berlioz again – is a song cycle setting six poems by the composer's neighbour Gautier. They trace an arc of romantic love, from youthful exuberance through the pain of loss to new horizons.
Superbly sung here by mezzo Anna Harvey, her rich tone sitting comfortably in the Cathedral acoustic, especially perhaps in Le Spectre de la Rose. The ESO's fine accompaniment reflected the changing moods, and the final setting – L'Ile Inconnue – conjured up a powerful image of the boat sailing over the waves to the “faithful shore” of the unknown island.