REVIEW – Fulltone Strings @ Town Hall, Devizes – Sunday 26th June 2022

Four Seasons In One Day

Andy Fawthrop


There’s no respite if you’re into your culture in D-Town these days. Fresh off the back of the wonderful Devizes Arts Festival, I headed on a beautiful sunny Sunday evening to a sold-out Town Hall to hear The Fulltone Orchestra in full musical flight. This was FTO’s “taster” event, and an advert for the big event over the August Bank Holiday weekend (Fulltone Music Festival) to be held on The Green on 27th and 28th August….

Anthony Brown (“Our Tone”) had gathered an almost 40-strong string orchestra, with only a very short time for rehearsals, and moulded them together to provide us with a short, but very satisfying musical repast.
To start with, our amuse-bouche if you like, was the short but sweet Adagio in G Minor by Tomaso Albinoni. This 18th Century composer, who was quite famous in his day, and a contemporary of Vivaldi, is less well-known these days. The piece was light and airy, and played with some panache by a clearly enthusiastic orchestra, a perfect Baroque accompaniment to the sunshine flooding in through the open windows, and a piece absolutely suited to the surroundings of the splendid room in which were sitting.

Next up, the real starter, was Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on A Theme By Thomas Tallis. Still light but a little more substantial, this was one English composer’s interpretation of an earlier English composer’s work, and is perhaps more recognisable, having been recorded and performed many times over the last century.

And finally, after a short interval, we were onto the main course and, I suspect, the key reason for this concert’s obvious popularity – Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, his violin concerto written roughly 300 years ago in the period 1718-20. For this piece, conductor Anthony willingly ceded the leadership of the strings to guest Russian concert violinist, Elizaveta Tyun. Elizaveta has performed all over the world, and her appearance in Devizes was a real coup for the FTO.

The Four Seasons (“Le quattro stagioni” in Italian) is, by far and away, the best-known of Vivaldi’s works, and is a group of four linked violin concertos, each of which gives musical expression to a season of the year. At the time when they were first performed, they were a revolution in musical conception: in them Vivaldi represented flowing creeks, singing birds, a shepherd and his barking dog, buzzing flies, storms, drunken dancers, hunting parties from both the hunters’ and the prey’s point of view, frozen landscapes, and warm winter fires. Also unusual for the period, Vivaldi published the concerti with accompanying sonnets (possibly written by the composer himself) that elucidated what it was in the spirit of each season that his music was intended to evoke. The concerti therefore stand as one of the earliest and most detailed examples of what would come to be called “program music” — or in other words, music with a narrative element. Vivaldi divided each concerto into three movements (fast–slow–fast), and, likewise, each linked sonnet into three sections. I’m not going to pretend that I knew all of that, but I Googled it and I thought you ought to know! I did it before I listened, and it certainly helped me to understand much better what I was listening to!

What can I say? It was absolutely wonderful, thrilling, inspiring, and emotional stuff. It was live orchestral music at its very best. Elizaveta played with enormous passion and enthusiasm, attacking the faster, trickier passages with great energy. And the strings of the FTO, probably inspired by such skill in their midst, followed her lead and supported her to great effect. It’s an absolutely fabulous piece of music. No matter how many times I’ve heard it played, it never ceases to amaze me. Despite being used in (literally) hundreds of film soundtracks, adverts, and the inevitable telephone on-hold theme, it always comes through as fresh and original. And it was so good to listen to it properly, all the way through, played by a set of musicians who clearly wanted to play it. Hats off to the lot of them – it was absolutely superb!

Well done to Jemma and Anthony Brown for pulling this concert together, well done to Elizaveta for a stirring rendition of the lead violin role, and well done to the scratch group of musicians who came together to deliver an excellent performance. Oh, and well done to the crowd who came out on a Sunday night to support such great live music and gave the performance exactly what it deserved – a long standing ovation and rapturous applause. Absolutely brilliant!

So – don’t forget to buy your tickets for The Fulltone Music Festival on Saturday and Sunday 27th & 28th August on The Green – available from Devizes Books, and online from www. www.ticketsource.co.uk/fulltone


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