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Energy and Passion!

April 21, 2017  |  Stella Seaton - Sims

Energy and passion! That's what it takes - and Michael Bochmann and the Orchestra Pro Anima possess both in abundance! When performing in the 'English String Orchestra', these players brought us exhilarating and inspiring music which was truly 'Pro Anima' - 'For the Soul'! Now, as one, they retain the ideal attitude and skills for transmitting the great music they offer us - exuding an all-enveloping spirit of open-minded friendship and musical joy! No poker-faced, stuffy musicians here!

Yes - we've been desperate for the Spring to 'unfurl' - and today, beside the ever- spectacular Malvern Hills, we certainly felt its vanguards coming. Christ Church has a very special, warm and welcoming 'community' feel and so much obviously happens here: there's a palpable, Spring-like 'bustle' in every aisle and corner. There's a huge, permanent book stall, boxes and boxes of 'stuff' at the ready for sale or distribution and posters advertise their many concerts everywhere! Endless, active involvement provides here a friendly, elevating positivity that doubled, nay tripled, as the opening notes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Divertimento in B flat K137 gracefully banished any negative memories from beyond the stone walls!

The fast and furious second movement brought visions of gambolling lambs, flitting butterflies and swooping swallows. Mozart certainly knew how to enliven body and soul - he orchestrated the dance of life! His music's often the antithesis of the anxious expression of human endeavour and profundity that is, say, Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto (the incredible opening of which always, immediately, reduces me to tears) but Mozart brings another depth. As in today's piece, his can be a colourful musical palate of happiness that complements the hopeful hues of nodding yellow, and blossoming pink and white, as they herald the Spring. These yearly harbingers mean so much to us. Likewise, though of course he's not always joyful, Mozart's lively music lights an exuberant path through life's places and spaces, and enables feelings and thoughts to be set free - without necessarily stressing hard-grafting 'endeavour'. Merely existing can often seem enough for him! We need many disparate inspirations in life - even lofty machinations of anxiety and effort (and I love Rachmaninov and the Romantics and others for these and many things) - but some composers' offerings seem more 'essential' than others. Surely Mozart has proved, by his astounding popularity through to this day, to be in a broad sense 'essential' and Bochmann et al enhance this with consummate ease.

The concert continued in an effervescent style that, with rainbow-hued lights playing behind the altar, became increasingly electric!

The Concerto for 4 violins in B minor could have been by no-one but Vivaldi. My blood danced through my veins as the bright, spirited playing pulsated with the fluent melodies and rich harmonies we expect of him. Exuberant and glorious, I was inescapably caught in its relentless, throbbing flow.

Next - the grand Violin Concerto in E major by J.S. Bach. Michael Bochmann, the soloist, stood as a flamboyant minstrel before his seated troupe and I imagined him the Pied Piper - with 'rats' gathering to follow his every intricate note and nuance as he unleashed sound, jewel-like, into the atmosphere! His lively playing seemed a rich and generous gift from bow to audience. To receive it, entranced and succumbing to Pro Anima's musical embrace, was to join an enchanting reverie 'full of the unconquerable joy of life'. Michael's sublime solo passages integrated wonderfully with the 'sea' of beautiful orchestral sound that exuded a 'natural' musicality and humanity - connecting the natural wood of the instruments, the flesh and blood of the players and the life-giving air they and we breathe - the air through which all is carried to our welcoming ears.

Post-interval, younger faces appeared before us! The training of budding musicians (Grade 1 upwards) is part of this group's commitment to spreading music far and wide. In their spirit of inclusivity, these fledgling players (Malvern Area Music Centre String Orchestra directed by Alison Virgo and Oonagh Humphrey) were welcomed to perform alongside the Bochmann crew in the ever-popular 'Amazing Grace' and hypnotic Pachelbel's Canon in D. Playing so intently in such a friendly atmosphere, these relative novices, and their audience, clearly enjoyed the experience.

Next red-hot fire and passion! The Carmen Fantasy Opus 25 by Pablo Sarasate, with solo played by George Ewart, proved great fun - but certainly not for the faint-hearted! Familiar tunes from Bizet's opera may have provided a false sense of security as the virtuoso Spanish performer who composed this Fantasy clearly enjoyed living on the edge! George played with gusto and in virtuosic style and my heart raced at times when, as if on the edge of an abyss, it seemed we were clinging onto survival with creeping and creaking finger-nails! Bravo!

Now for the cello's major moment in the sun - and what sun! Orchestral laughter preceded this Hungarian Rhapsody Op 68 by Popper - I know not why! - but, whatever sparked it off, it lay down a metaphoric velvet carpet upon which this brilliant piece was played - brilliantly! Peter Adams, the solo cellist, performed the almost physically impossible. Nimble and energetic fingering astonished and delighted us as the helter-skelter of the 'dance' progressed ... at, at least, 200 rpm! But this was only the limbering up for a stop-start, contradictory, whirling-dervish of a piece that continuously thrilled and amazed in its difficulty and intricacy, in and out, up and down ... inter-lacing and accelerating to a fervent lift-off at the end!

This break-neck pace had to slow (!) but not excessively, as we were treated to another physical exercising of the mind and soul with the Capriol Suite. The six short movements, derived by the English composer Peter Warlock from early dance forms, began with a deceptive grace but, far from allowing rest at the end of the concert, they soon developed more energy-flow! How were we going to get out of all this alive! With 'Fiddle Faddle'! The children returned for this two-minute encore - an orchestra and piano 'hoedown' - and with fun we were done!

As ever (thankfully the name-change has changed nothing else), this afternoon's concert was utterly refreshing ... yet another triumph! These enthusiastic musicians obviously love playing and, judging by the response of their audiences, their passion and energy is never wasted! Their logo states 'Orchestra Pro Anima - up-lift and inspire'. This is a truth beyond doubt!

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Energy and Passion!

April 21, 2017