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Music review: BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Brangwyn Hall, Swansea

02 Jun 2023 3 minute read
Season Closing Concert – Brangwyn Hal Swansea. Photography by Yusef Bastawy

Peter Collins

This was the first time I attended a concert at Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall. What a delight.

There was an air of eager anticipation as the audience gathered for this end-of-season performance by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under its principal conductor, Ryan Bancroft.

Even the naked figures depicted in artist Frank Brangwyn’s British Empire Panels, which grace the walls of the hall, seemed to be excited at the prospect of a concert featuring Alice Neary, who leads the impressive cello section of the orchestra.

As a Barry boy born and bred, it was particularly pleasing for me to see that the concert programme featured a piece by Grace Williams, a Barry girl born and bred, who drew inspiration from the sea at the pebble beach at The Knap, Barry.

Williams’ Concert Overture was the lively, virtuosic work that opened the concert. Driving forward at a near-constant Allegro con brio, the orchestra gave us an exhilarating performance that was carefully harnessed by the ever ebullient Ryan Bancroft.

If this piece was inspired by The Knap, it must have been a pretty stormy day on the pebble beach. The agitated character of much of the well-crafted piece was  impressively portrayed by the orchestra and much appreciated by the audience.


The first half of the concert ended with a captivating performance of Mozart’s Symphony No 39, the first of the composer’s final three symphonies. It is the least well known of the three but is still full of delights and splendours.

Astonishingly, the last three symphonies were composed over a a two month period in the summer of 1788. Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt contended that these three monumental works were conceived as a trilogy with the 39th acting as a kind of overture.

Be that as it may, the powerful opening of the symphony certainly grabbed the attention of the Brangwyn Hall audience. The orchestra’s brass section was at its best, while the strings added bright colours, reflecting those in Frank Brangwyn’s panels.

There was an impressive depth and rhythmic drive throughout this performance which explored the ominous character of parts of the work as well as its the wit and playfulness.

Although I enjoyed reading most of Cervantes’ epic novel Don Quixote, I did find it a bit of a struggle. Much the same could be said of Richard Strauss’ tone poem based on the book, called Don Quixote, “fantastic variations on a theme of knightly character.” It is among the most admired of Strauss’ works, a demonstration of “breathtaking compositional skill and formal mastery.”

Season Closing Concert,
Photography by Yusef Bastawy


There was certainly mastery in the way Bancroft directed the orchestra in an impressive performance of the work which painted vibrant pictures of scenes from the novel, including the famous tilting at windmills, the ride through the air and the contest with the two magicians.

The role of Don Quixote was depicted by Alice Neary on the cello, while the role of Sancho Panza was played by Rebecca Jones, principal viola with the orchestra.

After the lengthy introduction, we had the theme: Don Quixote, the Knight of Woeful Countenance. Ms Neary certainly inhabited the part as she did throughout, playing with fierce concentration, technical skill and intelligence.

After the concert we strolled along the seafront with a gentle breeze coming across The Mumbles. Grace Williams would have been enchanted.

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Roger Price
Roger Price
11 months ago

Thanks again to Peter Collins for such an enlightening review. So sorry I failed to make this performance.

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