In their opening concert of the new academic year, the Durham University Orchestral Society Chamber ensemble performed a carefully crafted programme comprised entirely of English music in the suitable setting of Durham Castle Great Hall.

Opening with Arnold’s ‘Serenade for Small Orchestra Op.26’ it was clear that the evening was to be one of stimulating music. The woodwind section executed the opening cascade well and their cohesion as a section only improved over the course of the night. Interspersed with the appropriate shimmering sound of the string section and admirable dynamic control and attention to phrasing from the brass, it proved a very convincing start to the concert. The drama and intention of the orchestra was further enhanced by the timpanist’s (Zein Checri) nuanced performance, adjusting timbre and dynamic suitably for each entry. Intonation across the orchestra was not always consistent but this did not detract significantly from the overall effect. With greater cohesion in the second movement, the moments of unison between sections was impressive. The double bass line was projected very well with a luscious tone indicating excellent balance across the orchestra. Across the orchestra melodic lines were fluid with breathing and bow changes used to an advantage to highlight phrasing. Characterised brilliantly by the orchestra, the final movement was engagingly playful, and a delight to listen to. The trumpets (Martha Dean and Alex Cooke) notably produced a strikingly pure and strong tone at certain points.

 

‘The Banks of Green Willow’ by Butterworth was bright and warm from the opening clarinet solo (Cameron Wyke) and this continued with rounded cello tones and equally rich sound from the solo oboe (Freddie Hankin). Conductor Theo Golden’s clarity of expression and communication with the orchestra led to cohesion and maintained the seemingly simple tranquility of the piece as appropriate. At times perhaps more space could have been allowed in the music however the intent was clear and therefore a convincing interpretation. The fluidity of the flute solo (Elle Holland) was never broken and this trend was then continued by the solo violin (Amy Ying) with seamless bow changes. Intonation was slightly lacking at the end, but in general this was a good performance with great attention to phrasing from soloists and the orchestra alike.

 

Nathaniel Thomas-Atkin proved a very talented soloist with a full but extremely nuanced tone. His clear annunciation and careful phrasing brought this to life with a sense of great freedom in his vocal line which flowed well.

Finzi’s ‘Dies Natalis’ opened with an immediately engaging sombre feel which then became spacious and expansive. Although, on occasion, emotional intention from the orchestra was not entirely clear at the beginning of the first movement, this improved significantly. Nathaniel Thomas-Atkin proved a very talented soloist with a full but extremely nuanced tone. His clear annunciation and careful phrasing brought this to life with a sense of great freedom in his vocal line which flowed well. The strings provided a supportive bed of sound however, at times, the balance was not adjusted to allow the vocal line to carry through the texture. Regardless, there was delicate subtlety throughout and excellent colour from both orchestra and soloist. In the final movement coordination was perfect with the dynamic range used to its full potential. On occasion, there seemed to be slight hesitance over some of the more unusual harmonies, however overall this was an incredibly impressive performance.

Effective interplay between all sections led to a characterful and effervescent performance.

Quilter’s ‘A Children’s Overture’ was well balanced across the orchestra. The harpist’s (Claudia Atkinson) line was full of colour and tone and rung out well through the texture. Crisp snare rhythms and bright triangle playing from the percussionists combined with evident intention and commitment from the strings. Effective interplay between all sections led to a characterful and effervescent performance.

The fourth movement of Britten’s ‘Suite on English Folk Tunes’ was precise and energetic; the fourth movement really captured the audience’s attention with precise and energetic string playing. At the end of the first movement, a more uncertain ominous effect could have been produced, but again the interpretation was convincing. The meandering Cor Anglais line was beautifully sung out whilst still blending into the orchestral sound as a whole. The orchestra acted as a unit particularly in this piece, with excellent communication between section leaders (Amy Ying, Nina Kumin, Laura Cooper and Wilbert Chan).

The fourth movement of Britten’s ‘Suite on English Folk Tunes’ was precise and energetic; the fourth movement really captured the audience’s attention with precise and energetic string playing. At the end of the first movement, a more uncertain ominous effect could have been produced, but again the interpretation was convincing. The meandering Cor Anglais line was beautifully sung out whilst still blending into the orchestral sound as a whole. The orchestra acted as a unit particularly in this piece, with excellent communication between section leaders (Amy Ying, Nina Kumin, Laura Cooper and Wilbert Chan).

This was a very enjoyable concert with fabulous moments from every section in the orchestra and one that was clearly well received by the whole audience. The next concert is sure to be equally engaging and will take place with the rest of the DUOS cohort, alongside Northern Lights and Chamber choir, in the annual Christmas Concert.