EUSO's Sounds Of Spring Close Artsfest 2015

by Matt Hacke

EU50’s (the pun they go by this year) Sounds of Spring marked the climax of Artsfest 2015, a week long celebration of Exeter Music which you may well have missed as there wasn’t much in the way of tangible publicity. The 5 piece concert was a fitting finale to a high quality week. It’s a shame the event wasn’t advertised more as there was plenty of talent on show. I saw the BOTB final, and managed to catch snippets of the Flute Choir and Beats & Bass – all of which were excellent. Consider this preamble as a plea to the organizers to ratchet up the visibility next year… It’s really good!

Back to EU50, or sans acronym, the Exeter University Symphony Orchestra; a semi-auditioned conglomerate that is one of the flagship ensembles Extunes have to offer. EUSO boasts talent across the sections and is led by Richard Harvey, who as the program for the event demonstrated, has an excellent resume. Sounds of Spring promised much and it did deliver.

The recital opened with the Bacchanale by Saint Saëns, a mode that attempts to engender the feel of a drunken revelry. The lines were spiraling, and I felt the woodwind coped especially well here, with the Flute and Piccolo lines proving to be exceptionally clean in their execution of runs up and down the register. The lower string sections were ever so slightly fuzzy, although in fairness, I wouldn’t fancy playing such a frantic part. All in all, the performance was solid. The audience was led well through the eccentric opening, a disorientating middle and a frenetic climax, the percussion in particular was excellent at the finale, pounding a relentless metronome.

The Vltavaby Smetava was a bit of a find for me, as I hadn’t heard it before (although I’m listening to it on Spotify now). It’s a piece, which apparently attempts to capture the grandeur of the titular river that runs through Prague. Again, the opening relied heavily on the flutes, and again they performed admirably. That’s not to say however this was a one-part show, as I thought the steady build through the middle was rendered excellently and patiently. Equally the short Hungarian Dance by Brahms further exhibited strong cohesion between the orchestra as a whole, and it was nice to hear such a well-known piece, albeit briefly in a program, that was stacked with lesser-known numbers.

The tandem focal points of the concert were the Clarinet Concerto No. 3 by Crusell and Dvŏrak’s Symphony No. 3. The Crusell was performed by Student soloist Sam Nugée, who set the tone for a flair rendition by swapping jackets from innocuous black to snazzy white. Throughout the Concerto Nugée dealt excellently with the complex, note-heavy parts, whilst doing extremely well to add some color to the rarer sustained notes he had the opportunity to play. I’m a fan of the clarinet solo as it sounds like the more commonly utilized flute with a bit more stomach, so I especially enjoyed the more introspective second movement in which Nugée​’s tone was top notch. Whilst any review of a Concerto should focus on the soloist, its worth noting the orchestra played a strong accompaniment – complementing the main line, permitting the heavily ornamented melodies reach their full potential.

The final opus of the event was the Dvŏrak, a composer best known for his very famous New World Symphony. This piece however had an extremely different vibe to it, and the description of parts of it in the event’s program as childlike seemed extremely apt. I especially enjoyed the opening movement, which reminded me strongly of Pan’s Labyrinth, although that could have been due to the child laughing in the audience at one point, paralleling a descent into a more somber register. It was oddly atmospheric. Equally the finale was strong, and the conductor Richard Harvey did a great job of modulating the tone, preventing it from becoming too raucous. Here, the horsepower was provided by thundering lower strings – all culminating in an extremely satisfying climax.

As mentioned in the front-matter, Sounds of Spring proved a fitting end to the week’s celebration of the University’s music culture. I’m looking forward to seeing what EU50 have planned in the near future, and hopefully the orchestra’s 50th year will continue with the quality that was displayed in this concert.