This concert was much-anticipated, and the Great Hall was packed on the night, with stewards having to bring more chairs into the hall to accommodate the larger-than-expected audience. The Orchestra was directed by John Reddel tonight, and a slightly late start can be forgiven due to the keen volume of people that had to be seated.
The evening opened with Delius’ Two Pieces for Small Orchestra, and the opening chord in the strings completely changed the space at the start of ‘On hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring’. Delius’ tone-poetry was beautifully expressed, with interplay between soloists and orchestral sections very together. More could have been made of the changes in texture (for example, when the double basses drop out form the descending producing a lovely ‘suspended’ feeling in the upper parts), however there was still a great sensitivity to the accompanying orchestra as a ‘backdrop’.
‘Summer night on the river’ opened with a charming trochaic rhythm which continued to loom in the lower parts without ‘breaking out’ or becoming too pronounced. Although the softer chordal entries in this piece are sometimes tentative, this doesn’t detract from the atmosphere generated. There was a feeling that perhaps those staccato chords towards the end of this piece could have been better articulated, but elsewhere there was some very unified pizzicato figures in the strings carrying over well in conversation with the woodwind and double bass with great sensitivity.
The second item was Johannes Brahms’ Variations on a theme by Haydn and there was a rich orchestral sound that wasn’t compromised by Brahms’ often complex counterpoint. The second variation had some wonderful ‘hammer blow’ chords which could have been more excitably expressed, although admittedly this space can distort even the most percussive entries depending on the listener’s position. The solo flautist, Emily Holland, was particularly worthy of credit for a very confident and even tone that projected well over the chorale movement. The walking bass here was also very characterful without being too pronounced. Freddie Hankin on solo oboe also made some difficult scalic figures seem completely effortless. Looking ahead to variation V, there is some very biting chromatic harmony towards the final cadence, and John leads the orchestra in a commendably pure variation VI, which is very inward-looking and leads into the characterful cross-rhythms and metrical confusion of variation VII. There is a lightness here that drives the triumph home in the contrasting strong metre of the final variation. The staccato entries in the brass are particularly accurate here, and credit should go to the timpanist in this piece, Toby Cowling, for excellent balance and an impressive emergence to the fore at the finale. Finally, Brahms’ unusual (and for this reason particularly important) use of the triangle at the end of this piece must be mentioned, and percussionist Rhys Rodrigues provides what many would term the indispensable ‘icing on the cake’ to what is a commendable rendering of this work.
After an interval, Mendelssohn’s Symphony no. 3 opens with particularly accurate rhythms, although there are some timing issues in the string unisons in the first movement. Solo Clarinetist Katie Fyffe is particularly strong, playing an emphatic solo line based on a pentatonic scale that is perfectly phrased. A highlight of the third movement was the wind section and its accuracy in articulating rhythmic chords in the Adagio movement. The penultimate movement had some very expressive fast runs in the strings which are expertly led by Hayley Lam, and more widely this movement in particular exhibits the communicative strengths of the ensemble.
Chromatic energy builds up in the final movement, with a menacing energy. The finale is masterful, with powerful octave interjections in the strings, and despite the occasional slip, the rhythms are hammered home. The lower woodwind and brass range is also surprisingly clear and projected in this movement, and the piece ends with wonderful brightness and clarity.
After very sizeable applause, the audience was gifted Grainger’s arrangement of the Irish tune from County Derry, which is opened with strings and is very energised despite its slowness. The violin/viola verse is very exposed and exquisitely expressive, sounding delicate without being timid. Warmth and familiarity are achieved in the last verse with the accompanying brass underpinning a clear re-statement of that well-loved melody.
Overall this concert was a triumph, with the orchestra’s tone well blended and masterfully directed by John Reddel. Looking forward from this popular and thoroughly enjoyable evening, the upcoming December concert of the DUOS Symphony Orchestra is sure to be excellent, with works by Saint-Saens and Tchaikovsky and conducted by Alex Mackinder