DUOS never seem to fail to deliver and this concert was no exception. The concert got off to a tremendous start with Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Op. 96, with very precise fan-fare style trumpets and brass. The clarinets blended particularly well over the solid bed of strings. Sometimes there was a sense of competitiveness and a slight off balance between brass and the high multitude of strings, but each section held their own nevertheless. DUOS’ conductor for a second year running, Alex Mackinder, excelled, having the best orchestra under his complete control. Despite occasional tuning problems in the wind between clarinets and oboes, the Festive Overture proved to be a gorgeous opening to what promised to be a truly excellent and high-standard concert.
Following the first piece by Shostakovich, the audience were treated to Ma Vlast, No 2 Vltva by Smetana, the second movement of his seven symphonic poems. It began with a purely beautiful and yet haunting flute solo played by Georgie Proctor, soaring above subtle and well balanced plucked strings and harp. The cellos and violas produced effortless yet effective swells, the flowing river that runs through the centre of Prague. The stormier passages were well conveyed in the brass which heralded above the strings and percussion. Again, there were tuning problems in the wind at points, but the orchestra have the phenomenal ability to transport audiences to a different place, in this case to the Czech countryside, through the characterisation the expansive melodies and dramatic rhythms. This was a real credit to Mackinder and the majestic orchestra.
To finish the first half, DUOS accompanied the very talented Ellie Holland playing Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D major. Nerves were noticable but there was absolutely no need as she had such a beautiful and natural presence at the front. Her rising phrases were excellently timed with the violins nurtured well by Mackinder. There was a true sense of group rapport and support from the orchestra for Holland, apart from moments where the strings could have been more sensitive to the soloist despite the use of mutes.
A particularly special moment in the second movement was the duet between Holland and cellist Jessica Bryden. They were a perfect match, creating an emotive call and response dialogue. Holland’s dance-like quality of articulation completely stunned the audience in the third movement. Coupled with her clear sense of line and phrase, Holland performed to a professional standard. The fluid motion in the technically very challenging phrases took us all by surprise! Holland should be incredibly proud of her achievement and we should all keep our eyes peeled for her future solo work.
The moment we were all waiting for arrived at the first downbeat of the first movement of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony: the indestructible, angular melody of the strings. The strings united as one in this opening passage with the eerie descending lines in the first violins. The astounding volume produced by the orchestra was quite remarkable and I wondered whether this particular symphony actually required a larger venue. The orchestral unison injected chills through the audience with Ellie Knott’s accurate piccolo towering above the whole orchestra. More intimate moments, such as leader Hayley Lam’s stunning violin solo, managed to savour this overwhelming but still very impressive sound. Her exquisite tone and effective use of meticulous vibrato instilled calm to the room. The cellos and doubles basses started the second movement with a jarring sense of pent up fury inducing a bursting sense of childish energy also heard in the wonderful harp glissandos later on. The deeply sorrowful third movement brought the atmosphere to a standstill with the almost silent tremolos in the strings, under the beautiful and rich oboe solo by Freddie Hankin.
There was also real conviction in the heart-wrenching moments heard in the gorgeous harp harmonics, conveying the political tension during Stalinist Russia. The fourth movement welcomed the return of the all mighty and powerful timpani alongisde the brass, led by Llewelyn Cross and Patrick Morris, which clearly conveyed the sense of pure rage against Stalin. This busy and hectic movement produced an incredible wall of immense imploding sound, leaving audience in awe. A true enjoyment of the concert was watching Mackinder’s skillful style of conducting, he seemed to be much more in control and his animated style was perfect for this well-programmed concert.
This is a very exciting year for DUOS and I strongly urge audience to get the dates in the diaries now for future concerts. As this was an almost flawless performance, this only promises even bigger and better things to come. Congratulations DUOS on a fantastic concert.