The first outing of the year for DUPO Symphony on 1st December was a wonderfully engaging and original performance of Berlioz’ ‘Symphonie Fantastique’.

This pillar of the romantic repertory follows a successful performance of late romantic works only two days before by DUPO Chamber and is proof of the versatility and quality musicianship of the players. The five movements of the piece were interspersed with short scenes- written by Harry Jenkins and delivered by a trio of actresses: Izzy Daltry, Issy Flower and Maniha Khan- which explored the obsessive love that infuses the music. The dark potential of this kind of emotion was realised in the final scene, in which the manic lover resorts to drugs to attempt to satiate his desire to be with his beloved. This was all gloriously reflected by the orchestra: dynamic and expressive contrast was well-observed throughout and contributed greatly to making the piece as exciting as it was; tutti moments were unified, well-balanced and hair-raising, just as Berlioz intended, one imagines.

The third movement featured a splendid oboe and cor anglais duet from Jonty Hart and Jennifer Talbot, as well as several moments for each section to shine, which all the players observed with much sensitivity. The strident and terrifying fourth movement- the ‘March to the Scaffolding’- offered up some seriously good bassoon playing led by Emily Wallace: rhythmic, accurate and intense, driving the music forward. The moments in a concert where it seems to the listener as if he were looking behind the clock-face to the cogs working inside are marvellous ones indeed and will reveal much fine playing that would otherwise blend into the texture. Such was the case with ‘Symphonie Fantastique’, thanks in part to Berlioz’ scoring- which is much more egalitarian in its treatment of the instruments than that of many other composers- but also to the aforementioned sensitivity of the musicians to that scoring. Credit must also be given to the conductor, Matthias Lichtenfeld, for preparing the large forces of DUPO Symphony to such a standard.

‘dynamic and expressive contrast was well-observed throughout and contributed greatly to making the piece as exciting as it was’

Mention should be made of the lower strings- cellos and basses- who were excellent and provided the essential drive the piece needed, especially in the lyrical and texturally complex first movement. The fifth movement- the ‘Witches Sabbath’- in which the protagonist dreams he has died and is at an unholy gathering of witches, was wonderfully overwhelming; the orchestra was the most unified and confident in this movement and the relish of playing it, in all its loud and vicious glory, came across. The audience were certainly enthused by the excitement of the last movement and the applause was almost as loud as the music itself.

The choice of the Durham Town Hall for the venue was a good one and the audience was full; the reputation that DUPO has as one of the leading ensembles in the university is well deserved and ‘Symphonie Fantastique’, proves this and the that the ensemble is not afraid to explore new ways to present and perform music. It promises to be an exciting year of music.

Tom Rayner