This concert was a wonderful and insightful journey into baroque and classical instrumental music. DUCE have outdone the success of their last show with this polished performance, thus creating a highly entertaining evening. Their contextual ‘Susan McClary’ approach to historically informed performance makes them stand out from other classical ensembles in Durham, introducing a new dimension which helped the overall experience to be extremely pleasing.

Intonation was for the most part perfect, although during the opening of Vivaldi’s String Sinfonia the first violins and violas went slightly off-piste. This was, however, compensated for the well-controlled chromatic ascensions with were suitably tense and, when interspersed with dramatic silences, extremely effective. The balance between forces was also very good, even during Mozart’s Symphony No. 35; a big ask with such a large ensemble.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 was a particular highlight of the evening. The rapid arpeggiation and scalic runs during the first movements were immaculate. Similarly, the tricky scotch-snap rhythms during the minuet and trio as well as syncopation during the final movement were polished and well phrased. The ensemble showcased the ability to handle dynamic contrast, juxtaposing passages of triumphant bliss against languishing melodies to remarkable affect.   Furthermore, periodic phrasing was mutually felt in the melody so that they were consistently together. To top it off, there was an explosive finale which was very clean despite some complicated part-writing. In short, a fantastic performance.

Krommer’s Harmonie in E flat Major used a far smaller wind ensemble and felt unsure in parts. The horns lacked confidence in their entries, the flute and clarinet occasionally fought over tuning and conjunct scalic and triplet runs were messy. However, this was compensated for by fruitful tutti sections and controlled voice exchanges between parts which revealed moments of instrumental democracy revolutionary for its time.

The solo performances throughout the evening were extremely impressive. Ryan Kerr’s indulgent tone on the Oboe d’Amore during Bach’s Concerto was pleasing, bringing out the potential of the instrument’s timbre. Occasionally unprepared airflow resulted in a few miscued entries, but besides this the performance was well-rehearsed and expressive.

David Hedly’s performance of Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in D minor was stunning. Flawless and expressive, Hedly knew how to both move and amaze the audience to show remarkable proficiency for university level. His grasp of baroque performance practice was evidenced by the skilful employment of supplementary ornamentation. His technique was good; fingers were close to the keys and posture was suitably relaxed, whilst intonation was impeccable. My only criticism was that lips were relatively far down the reed and that he could perhaps go a bit louder during climaxes. However, these are tiny kinks in an otherwise faultless performance. Very well done!

The impressive individual performances and DUCE’s admirable instrumental playing made the evening a great success. Particular thanks must go to Chris Waters for his wonderful attitude and skilful direction which clearly rubbed off on the performers who seemed to really enjoy themselves. DUCE clearly showed their worth tonight and I hope they are successful in their quest to obtain period instruments. For more exquisite music and historical education be sure to come to DUCE’s summer concert on the 15th June!