Academy of St Thomas
CHRISTOPHER SMITH St Andrew's Hall, Norwich
St Andrew's Hall, Norwich
Carmen, the sly, seductive heroin of a story by Prosper Merimee, inspired Georges Bizet to write an opera.
Dozens of composers have set out to shape Bizet's music in all sorts of new ways, to bring out even more passion and keep audiences entertained with ingenious reinterpretations.
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Few have done so with greater success than Rodion Shchedrin. His free version of Carmen was designed for the ballet. What makes it exceptional is the orchestration.
For this performance, the Academy of St Thomas, conducted by Christopher Adey and led by Paul Clarke, called on the services of the Prince Consort Percussion Ensemble from the Royal College of Music.
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Energetic, athletic and musical, five students captained by their professor, Kevin Hathway, showed their versatility. Around 50 instruments created a kaleidoscope of resonance.
First came a slightly sinister peal from tubular bells. Then castanets clattered, snare drums rattled, and the whip cracked. The marimba added its individuality, and so did the great tam-tam. Amid the variety, the timpani still maintained authority, putting a secure foundation under the clatter.
Sometimes providing contrasting moments of calm, the academy's strings also created atmosphere with strong accents and dramatic pauses.
What looked from the programme as if it might be an assault on the eardrums turned out delicate and sensitive, poetic as well as percussive.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Brahms' Third Symphony.
More sober in its musical style, it made a powerful case for conventional values with fine work from cellos and wind, even if the balance was sometimes questionable.