DUCE’s first concert of the year, in which we heard a wide array of Baroque and Classical/early Romantic music, was impressively detailed and phrased throughout. It was wonderful to see the orchestra come together, conducted by the founder of DUCE, Bruno and brilliantly led by Megan Hathaway. Castle Great Hall was a fantastic setting for such refined playing of their programme.

The programme began with Mozart’s Overture to Die Zauberflote, which was written for a suburban Viennese theatre and premiered just before Mozart’s death. It was a shame that the intonation was unsettled in the opening chords, but this improved as the piece went on. Particularly impressive was the exposed 2nd violin passage which was very confidently played, and similarly when the 1st violins joined in. The balance was generally good, although the strings sometimes overpowered some of the flute solos. The orchestra throughout had a very impressive dynamic range considering its size, and this overture was a great start to the concert.

Next we heard Handel’s Concerto Grosso in B minor which allowed the string playing to really shine. Even though the opening was not very well together between the strings and the harpsichord, the rest of the Concerto was very impressively performed. The whole string section really captured the Baroque style in this piece, especially in the Allegro movements, and the concertino, made up of Megan Hathaway, Libby Dillon and Rob King played very eloquently and with great flare for this style of music. The second Largo movement encountered some problems with the intonation, and also the tendency of the bass line to rush which made this section sound particularly unsure, but the final Allegro took the Concerto to a magnificent conclusion.

The Handel was followed by JC Bach’s Symphony in G minor, in which the change of style and the dark key of G minor was immediately noticeable. The phrasing, again, was excellent, which was a reoccurring theme throughout the concert. However, the slow movement in the Bach, as with the Handel suffered from some unsure moments from the violins which was not helped by the rushing bass line. This was only a minor setback though, in what proved to be a very convincing performance of this work.

The first movement, which was full of character, was aptly contrasted with the beginning of the second movement, in which the violas and cellos created a wonderful atmosphere introducing the theme with a very well-balanced sound.

After the interval, we heard Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in A major, which was considered quite a controversial work for the time because of some of its forward thinking ideas. Certainly, Bruno used the silences in this work to their full advantage, creating some breathtaking moments. The first movement, which was full of character, was aptly contrasted with the beginning of the second movement, in which the violas and cellos created a wonderful atmosphere introducing the theme with a very well-balanced sound. The full string sound was also impressive, but when the wind entered they perhaps didn’t quite treat the theme with the same delicate phrasing that the strings had managed to achieve. Having said this, in the major section, the clarinet melody was particularly beautiful and phrased to perfection. The third movement was also well played by the whole orchestra, however in the Scherzo section, more care could have been taken with some of the violin phrases which became quite scratchy in some places. The final movement, Allegro con brio, was a fantastic end to the concert, which particularly showed the prowess of the timpani player, Eleanor Pearson. Credit should also be given to Megan Hathaway, who led DUCE marvellously and to Bruno, who conducted the concert commendably. Watch out for DUCE’s concert next term, on the 21st March at St Oswald’s Church.