Maidstone Symphony Orchestra Mote Hall, Maidstone 4th February 2023

maciej-kulakowski-2.jpgThere can be few more uplifting ways of finishing a concert than with a moving, joyous account of Beethoven’s glorious Symphony no 7, recently found in a poll to be the most popular of all his symphonies.

Brian Wright treated the first movement as a fairly gentle vivace which allowed all the glorious detail to sail through with some especially lovely work from flautist Anna Binney whose flute clearly agrees with Wagner that this symphony is the apotheosis of the dance. The allegretto, arguably one of the best movements Beethoven ever wrote with that insistent rhythm and its built-up layers, was sonorous and tender. And the finale was played with as much brio and slick panache as I’ve heard it played anywhere. Earworms were the order of the day during my drive home to London.

Of course the Saint-Saens’s first cello concerto, played in this performance without breaks, is much less well known. Soloist, Maciej Kutakowski has a deceptively relaxed stage persona – frequently catching the eye of the leader or conductor with a half smile. But his insouciant manner belies the passion of his playing. In a piece full of contrasts we got some magnificent lyrical playing especially in the third movement and the lightness of the cello sound over muted strings in the central allegretto was expertly judged. Then, after joking pleasantly with the audience he played, as an encore, Grazyna Bacewicz’s Polish Caprice which is short, snappy and enjoyably virtuosic.

The evening had begun with Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale. Effectively a mini-symphony with a movement missing, it’s a piece which doesn’t get as many outings as it should so well done MSO for introducing it to audience members who might not have heard it before. I admired the resolute playing, especially strings, in the overture; the dynamic colour and gentle warmth which Wright stressed in the second movement and the melodious energy of the finale.

Susan Elkin