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Classical Guitar Magazine October 2003
A Midsummer Night's Concert Fabio Zanon plays Stephen Kenyon's Guitar Concerto I St Mary's Church Dorchester Dorset 21 June 2003
Classical Guitar Magazine December 2003
From the review by Steve Marsh of Dorset and Derby Guitar Societies concert with John Mills, on October 4th 2003.
I was invited to attend rehearsals for Stephen Kenyon's Guitar Concerto I and dutifully jumped at the chance. It is a double pleasure to attend rehearsals and a privilege, especially when it's a premiere and nerves are laid bare (and that's just from the person making the tea and cakes!)
Kenyon (conducting), Zanon and the Oberon Chamber Orchestra, assembled at the church and worked through the programme of Mendelssohn's Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream Op 21 plus the Nocturne from the Incidental Music to AMSND and Schubert's popular Symphony no 5. An interesting inclusion into the orchestra was an authentic Ophicleide, the instrument originally used for Bottom's character in the Mendelssohn. A 19th century bass-end of the bugle family later to be replaced by the tuba, it was to add an extra honk to Bottom's hee-haw. The rehearsal went well, and yes, nerves were laid bare but were soon soothed by the excellent refreshments.
The concerto was written when Kenyon was still at college, he subsequently wrote two more but the first remained unperformed. Finding a virtuoso soloist is not the easiest of tasks and getting a show off the ground without the work being written by Rodrigo is a feat achieved by very few. Zanon had agreed to play the concerto but at the time his status in the world of professional music was not as great as it is now. Kenyon's ability to gather high-calibre musicians also grew over the intervening years and so when in 2001 with the idea for the concert blossoming and Zanon's renewed enthusiasm and advice from Music and Art Promotion Dorchester it was inevitable that the Concerto would at last be performed.
An interesting note regarding he orchestra, fixing players and sponsoring, was the emergence of Player Sponsors. These generous souls helped boost the orchestra and in return, apart from the satisfaction of supporting the artistic cause, got reserved seating, signed programmes and access to the rehearsal.
To the concert; the woodwinds ushered in the magic that is one of the most famous Overtures ever written. Kenyon rallied his band of merry men and women and roused the audience into a nicely intoxicated state of apprehension.
Kenyon's concerto began with a solo declaration of around 20 barsfrom Zanon, a high ostinato pattern then followed whereby the orchestra introduced itself by way of the cellos. The music immediately felt accessible; the language veered from spicily tonal and grew more restless. The woodwinds, doubling piccolos were given lots of work and score got splashed with plenty of bright bolts of colour. The snare drum cranked up the tension towards the end of the first movement, which wound down to almost a whisper. The second movement had blissfully orchestrated parts with the language being in a different hue from the first. Its pastoral imagery had elements of Celtic music and perhaps Renaissance voicing, like magic mist, which built from very slow, with tubular bells, to a violent passage of arpeggiated chords from the soloist over which swooped an absolutely fiendish part for the duelling woodwinds. The final movement began with the snare drum and timpani to whip up more of a storm. There were poignant solos from the violin, with a piquant accompaniment from the guitar, and also from the oboe, which was particularly effective. The ending had the orchestra playing the penultimate chord followed by a cymbal then a lonely pizzicato note from the guitar, timpani and double bass, a tangible silence followed by rapturous applause. Zanon's playing throughout was full of vigour and depth.
After the interval the Mendelssohn and Schubert wove their spell and Kenyon did a mightily impressive job conducting the orchestra. Stephen had the foresight to have the concert recorded, for purely non-commercial reasons and the atmosphere has been captured perfectly. It would be a shame if this concerto were not given another outing in the near future. Hopefully the forces that be can be persuaded.
The evening concluded with, what was for me, the highlight of the evening and this was Concerto 2 by Stephen Kenyon, written in 1994, where once again the composer conducted the whole ensemble with John Mills as soloist. This is a work if immediate appeal and the attractiveness continues to the very last bar. Very briefly, the first movement proceeds in sonata form, Kenyon paying tribute in the opening statement to Schubert, (one of the few major composers to take any interest in the guitar); the beautiful second movement is based on two traditional folksongs I Live Not Where I Love and Bushes and Briars and the piece finalises with the third movement being in the form of two reels and concluding in grand style. This is a major work for this format, full of lyricism, nice rhythms, beautiful harmonies and one for the soloist to their teeth (fingernails?) into, for it is no easy ride. This is certainly a piece which deserves many more outings and if the other concertos (there are three to date) are anywhere near this standard then I look forward to attending performances of these as well.
This was an excellent evening all round, with good and entertaining music, and the soloist and both societies should be very pleased with their performances and from the audience reaction this thought was shared by all.
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