Review – DUOS Cathedral Concert

The Nave of the Cathedral was packed for this, the final performance of this incarnation of DUOS. The audience was treated to two shorter pieces (Finzi’s Romance in E flat major, Op. 11, and Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 2) from the Chamber Orchestra, followed by Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major, performed by the full Symphony Orchestra. Finzi’s piece, written for just strings, began with an ethereal opening chordal texture which, despite the small forces, didn’t seem at all lost in the large acoustic. After the texture built up, some pizzicato double bass material was used sensitively to reveal the massive reverb available in the space under the lantern tower. There were some wonderful ‘crunchy’ passages of contrary motion and suspensions within the texture, and it was from this dense (but not muggy) texture that violin leader Hayley Lam emerged with a wonderful solo line that stated one of the first melodic motifs. The piece builded to reach a peak, before dissipating with many passing modulations, in typical fashion for Finzi’s orchestral pieces. Even in this section of rubato and gradual decrescendo, there was no sense of the strings ‘drowning’ in the large space, and a sense of intensity remained even until the delicate ending. Next, the rest of the Chamber Orchestra joined their colleagues on stage to perform Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony. The opening movement began with a...

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Review – Classical Ensemble

Classical Ensemble’s final concert of the year took place in St Oswald’s church and offered a delightful programme of Mozart and Couperin, conducted by Ryan Bunce and featuring soloist Misuzu Oda. Ryan introduced their opening piece, Mozart’s 31st Symphony, by reading a few lines from letters written by the composer himself.  Nicknamed the ‘Paris Symphony’ this work was written to please his audience (which was, unsurprisingly, Parisians).  Whether intentional or not, it is a shame he left out the more scathing remarks Mozart had made of his audience.  Comments such as ‘I hope that even these idiots will find something in it to like’ could have created further dimension to the background of the work, as Mozart introduces idiomatically French features such as the premier coup d’archet almost caricatured in the opening of the Symphony. Indeed, the ensemble’s opening was clear and stately, and there was a good use of dynamic contrast, particularly in the sforzandi moments, although the strings could have been even more flamboyant at the start. The timpani, played by Kweku Bimpong, provided a drive and punch much needed in the first movement. The ensemble played the better-known version of the second movement and although the horns had a bit of a wobbly start, the flute, played by David Sheard , shone through the texture. The restatement of the theme was much more assured and lyrical...

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Review – Brass Band Easter Term Concert

St Oswald’s Church was the perfect venue for this short and informal concert, which showcased the Durham University Brass Band’s work over the past two terms. This concert was also an opportunity for the ensemble to say thank you to their 2016-17 outgoing executive committee, and their outgoing conductor, Abigail Groocock. The concert began with Matthew Ruddock’s arrangement of ‘Pack up your troubles’ and ‘Deep Harmony’, a chorale prelude by Dennis Wright. These very different pieces demonstrated the ensemble’s strengths as they have adapted to their incoming conductor, Jonathan Fenwick, and also showed off the very pleasing acoustic of St Oswald’s. Particularly in the Chorale piece, the main theme was well phrased, and the swelling, changing harmony in the lower brass was kept just under the tranquil surface. Ending this section was a piece called ‘Breezing down Broadway’ arranged by Goff Richards, featuring a lot of well-known and entertaining show tunes. The main point of interest in this piece, however, was the way it showed off some extended techniques in the various instrumental sections, which created character in each of the varying themes, making them distinct from one another. The changes in metre were very smooth and Mr Fenwick guided the ensemble through the transitions into various dance styles very ably. The final staccato ‘stab’ chords at the end of the piece were accurate across the ensemble, and produced...

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Review – Hill Orchestra and Voices

For their final concert of the year Durham University Hill Orchestra and Voices joined together in a summer musical extravaganza raising money for the Rainbow Trust. The Rainbow Trust support children with terminal illness and their families, and 50% of proceeds from the concert went towards their cause; around £160 in total. Both Hill Orchestra and Voices are completely non-auditioned ensembles but this did not detract from the quality of the evening.   To open the concert the two groups performed together in a rendition of Sibelius’ Finlandia. This patriotic Finnish tone poem was recently performed by the Hill Orchestra as part of the Music Durham ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ concert. The opening here was slightly untidy but soon settled and the ensemble showed off their finesse with powerful and brooding dark colours. Some balance issues did not detract from this emotive performance. This was followed by Bach’s Calm and Tranquil Lie the Sheepfolds from Cantata BWV 208, here specifically arranged for choir with a flute duet, performed by Katie Parsloe and Naomi Solomons. Their performance grew in confidence and showcased individual members of the ensembles in contrast to the powerful tutti.   Voices alone gave a rendition of Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer which is often used as Wales’ Rugby National Anthem and on royal occasions. Voices had a balanced choral sound and their lines...

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Review – Durham University Chamber Choir

Beautifully titled ‘The Evening Watch’, the final concert in Durham University Chamber Choir’s calendar for this academic year took place in the most prestigious venue of Durham – the Cathedral. Building on from their previous triumphs earlier in the year, the concert was well-attended by students, families and members of the local community alike; the expectations were, as always, high due to the choir’s stellar reputation, but they certainly did not disappoint. Opening with James MacMillan’s ‘Miserere’, the choir immediately re-established every quality that the audience of Durham have come to know them for; the piece was executed with consistent clarity and conviction, supported emphatically by a strong bass section. The blending was absolutely first-rate; combined with the stunning acoustics of the Cathedral, the audience swathed in a silky timelessness before the singers brought the piece to a close with a powerful surge of emotion that ultimately faded into exquisite tranquillity. The next item in the programme unveiled the refreshing idea to have the 24-people choir split into three consort groups for three different settings of ‘When David Heard’ by Thomas Tomkins, Thomas Weelkes and Robert Ramsey, that were interspersed throughout the programme. It was lovely to experience the contrast in texture and to be able to hear the delicately interweaving voices in a more transparent context. Despite some minor slips in the intonation of the sopranos’ top Gs...

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