Arturo Serna gave magnificent performance with Axe Vale Orchestra

PUBLISHED: 17:00 10 March 2017


What an enterprising concert by Axe Vale Orchestra under Leslie Baker in February.

Glinka, but not the ubiquitous Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla. A Haydn Cello concerto but not the well-established one in D. And a symphony by Schubert but not one of the more popular ones.

In fact, the Glinka work I’d never heard before, although by the end I think I knew the melody off by heart. Glinka’s Kamarinskaya is a fascinating and lively work which relies on the many repetitions of a pair of folk tunes. This gave the orchestra the chance to show off the huge variety of different instrumental sounds which keep the whole work moving on and always staying interesting.

The conductor, Leslie Baker, perhaps better-known as a teacher and fine singer, showed another facet of his talent in keeping the music vital and fresh. And the orchestra really looked as if they were enjoying it; I’ve never seen so much foot-tapping !

The Haydn Cello concerto was the one in C which was actually rediscovered in 1962 some 200 years after it was written (I remember the stir this discovery caused at the time).

The soloist was a revelation. Arturo Serna studied music in Venezuela as part of the ‘sistema’, coming to the cello at the relatively late age of ten.

It didn’t show ! He was magnificent, playing the part with great gusto and with eyes shut thus not making much use of the music which lay on the floor in front of him. His enthusiasm was enormous – a great showman. It’s a difficult but he made light work of it, especially the big chords across all the strings. But he was also capable of delicacy and some of his soft playing was bewitching, a sound matched by restrained orchestral playing. However, I was amused by his tatty cello which looked like it had just been found in a charity shop. Its sound, however, belied its looks. Apparently he started to play the cello after seeing a recording of the divine Jacqueline Dupré. I remember queuing for hours in my teens to see her at the Proms. Sadly she didn’t have the same effect on me as she had on Arturo.

The concert ended with Schubert’s youthful Third Symphony. Well, all Schubert is youthful; he died at the age of 31. He wrote this in his teens for the home orchestra which his father got together in their little school house in Vienna. I wonder what he would have thought of the huge sound which Seaton Methodist Church projected. From the first moments we hear the major-minor contrasts which are so characteristic of his music as well as the dramatic key changes and dissonances. The conductor brought out the hidden power in this charming music. The last movement, a skittish tarantella, is reminiscent of the dance-like final movement of his C minor piano sonata written years later in the last few months of his life.

Arturo Serna is to become the orchestra’s principle conductor. If his playing is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat.

Ray Bruno

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