Ten Tors Orchestra presents Nigel Shaw’s Dartmoor Symphony in Plymouth (review)

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Musical taste is a personal thing and critics, too, sometimes get their opinions wrong – Bizet’s Carmen, for example, dismissed after its opening run, has since become one of the world’s most-performed operas.

Nigel Shaw’s Dartmoor Symphony communicates at a number of different levels. To those who gave it a standing ovation at the Roland Levinsky Theatre yesterday, it must certainly have hit the right spot, affording the ideal musical accompaniment to Chris Chapman’s simultaneously projected first-rate film of the landscape.

But others might have felt that the reliance on the distinctive timbre of handcrafted flutes, the rather predictable use of pentatonic and modal melody, exotic percussion and female chorus, all tended to make this substantial work of over an hour less sustainable, and certainly if the film was not being shown.

With apparent little tempo variation throughout, the five movements and their given titles could almost be interchangeable – something that could never be said about Beethoven’s somewhat naïve, yet unambiguous programmatic writing in his Pastoral Symphony.

The Ten Tors Orchestra, under Simon Ible, did a great job of conveying the spirit of Nigel’s eminently relaxing score, but really excelled themselves in the short opening programme-filler – Orawa, by contemporary Polish composer, Wojciech Kilar.

This highly-organised and terse work for strings, successfully managed to conjure up the sights and sounds of peasants dancing in the high Tatra Mountains – and without any added visual support.


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