Concert Review: 18th June 2016

Excerpts from:

Nicolai: The Merry Wives of Windsor  

Walton: Henry V               

Sibelius: The Tempest  

Locke: The Tempest  

Verdi: Otello             

Purcell: The Fairy Queen

Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream


Ashton Hall, Dalton Square, Lancaster

Conductor: Justin Doyle

Leader: Julian Cann


How many of the Ashton Hall audience at Saturday’s Haffner Orchestra concert had ever previously heard Mendelssohn’s wedding march in its original orchestral version? It brought to a resounding end this highly original programme of music, much of it relatively unfamiliar to most, inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. 

First we heard the familiar overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor by Nicolai in which the orchestra brought off the final accelerando to great affect. Justin Doyle, the Haffner’s conductor since the start of the season, had arranged two of Henry Purcell’s compositions: the “curtain tune” from his music for Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, and “The Plaint”, part of his accompaniment to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this item, we were gripped by Christine Lorriman’s flute, as indeed we were by the clarinet solo, played by Janet Barlow, with which Justin had replaced the voice of Desdemona in the Ave Maria from Verdi’s opera Otello.              

We heard works inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, written by two composers: Purcell’s teacher Matthew Locke, and 250 years later, Sibelius, both painting frenzied and relentless images of a violent storm. The Ashton Hall’s resonant acoustic so well suits orchestral music: sadly, the audio system used for spoken text accompanying the first of two extracts from Walton’s music for Henry Vwas ill matched to this acoustic, to the detriment of the combined performance.

The whole of Mendelssohn’s incidental numbers for A Midsummer Night’s Dream demonstrated how well the Haffner Orchestra was able to evoke the different effects ranging from the exhilaratingly rapidly-dancing fairies to the crude braying of Bottom, the ass. Congratulations to the whole orchestra, which was clearly in top form.


Reviewed by H Montagu-Pollock