It was lovely to be welcomed to St Oswald’s Church on Saturday 16th February by DUPO President Naomi Solomons for their first ever Ensembles Concert. Durham University Palatinate Orchestra, who normally perform as a full symphony or chamber orchestra, would be showcasing their talent in smaller ensemble groups, and the audience seemed eager to hear the variety of styles and ensembles that DUPO, as one of Music Durham’s leading orchestral societies, could offer.

The concert began with the OHB Ensemble, conducted by Oliver Hopkins-Burke, who played Battalia à 10 (1673) by Heinrich Biber. Written before the birth of JS Bach, the piece is a rather disturbing portrayal of war. The players captured the style of the work very well, and the extended techniques and polytonality of the various movements were very well executed. There were some occasional balance issues between the violin parts, but Oliver’s excellent conducting created a very enjoyable and educational performance.

Next up we heard The John’s Quartet (Oliver Brown, Hannah Moore, Matthew Toynbee, Michael Crilly) playing the first movement of Borodin’s String Quartet No.2 (1881). The essence of the famous lyrical melody in this quartet shone through, particularly aided by a delicately handled sense of rubato that only once unsettled the rhythm. Some intonation issues at the start of the movement were quickly recovered and by the return of the opening theme, the intonation was much more settled. The John’s Quartet struck an impressive balance between the melody and accompaniment figure throughout, which showed a strong sense of musicianship from the whole quartet.

the famous lyrical melody in this quartet shone through

The audience were given a taste of something more unconventional with the evening’s third smaller ensemble; double bass quartet, Low Key (Rob Cavaye, Charlie Fletcher, Gabriel Dixon-Hardy, Zac Shane). Their performance brought the concert into the 21st century, with Simon Garcia’s Northern Lights and AC-133. This unusual group also premiered a new composition by DUPO’s very own Rob King, which explored the performer-determined element of music. The quartet must be commended for drawing the audience in so effectively with the atmospheric quality of their playing, and their chosen programme created a tremendous ambience (only slightly marred by the keyboard amp which had been left on after a previous performance). It certainly was a treat to hear this double bass quartet.

Three members from the Kafka Quartet (Anna Bailey, Elisabet Dijkstra, Eben Gutteridge) brought the first half to a close with Dvorák’s Miniatures for two violins and viola. It was a shame that the accompaniment parts often overshadowed the melody and didn’t allow for it to be clearly heard. It would have been nice to see the violinists switch places to allow for the melody, beautifully played by Elisabet, to ring out. However, Dvorák’s Miniatures were a pleasure to listen to, and the group’s effortless communication throughout their performance made it clear that they had been playing together for a while.

After a short interval, we were treated to a performance from the Durham University Clarinet Octet. This was a particular highlight of the evening for me personally. Their lively, upbeat performances of Paquito and Rialto Ripples Rag seemed to be enjoyed by both audience and performers alike. The ensemble worked very well together and their precision and blend led to a very polished performance with excellent dynamic contrast and a strong sense of pulse. I hope to hear much more of this ensemble in the future.

The next item on the programme was the string quartet, No Strings Attached (Millie Harding, Becky Taylor, Charlotte Sasse and Gabriel Francis-Dehqani), who formed at the start of this academic year. They performed a selection of well-known classic tunes from their repertioire: Por Una Cabeza, Where Do I Begin?, Friend Like Me, Cock Linnet, and Autumn Leaves. No Strings Attached brought a sophisticated air to their take on these classics, and indeed the evening, for which they should receive high praise. Each player in the quartet had an incredibly strong individual sound, which created a very impressive full quartet sound.

No Strings Attached brought a sophisticated air to these classics

DUPO Jazz (Sonia Bae, Hugo Jennings, David Bullock, Charlie Fletcher) then took to the stage to perform three well-known jazz standards – Blue Skies, On the Sunny Side of the Street and How High the Moon. It was very special to hear a jazz ensemble formed of players from DUPO, who predominately play classical repertoire. Double bassist Charlie Fletcher, who stood in at the last minute, should be applauded for his tremendous energy, which really set alight the whole ensemble.

The final item in the concert was DUPO Violas, which brought together the viola section and some multi-talented members from other sections of the orchestra who also play the viola. With their rendition of Tale As Old As Time and You’ll Be In My Heart, arranged by Becky Taylor, this ensemble brought a fun end to the concert. There were moments of instability which threatened to detract from the overall act, however it was evident that DUPO boasts a number of very accomplished viola players.

Overall, DUPO’s first ensembles concert was a great success, showcasing some wonderful and imaginative players from within the orchestra. Make sure to join DUPO for their orchestral concerts next month.

Upcoming Concerts

Sunday 10th March, 8pm: DUPO Chamber in Castle Great Hall

Saturday 17th March, 3:30pm: DUPO Symphony in Caedmon Hall, Hild Bede