Under the direction of Alex Mackinder and leader Becky Taylor, the DUOS Symphony Orchestra, astounded the sold-out audience in their first concert of the year; in a some-what acoustically challenging setting, of Elvet Methodist Church.
As Mackinder planted the downbeat, the orchestra started Debussy’s La Mer with an element of calmness and precision, with the starting dynamics creating a sense of stillness and serenity amongst the audience. It was interesting to see how the
orchestra adapted to playing in the rather ‘dry’ acoustic of Elvet Methodist, and unfortunately, the little details were, at times, lost towards the back of the venue, which could have been handled more carefully. Generally, however, the dynamics were well contrasted, and the intonation was generally very good throughout the sections, albeit with a few minor issues of flatness towards the upper registers. It was a delight in the first sketch to hear Principle Flautist, Ellie Holland floating her solo elegantly above the shimmering strings – played with true musicianship and allowing the solo line to fade gradually in and out of the overall texture with ease. Throughout the three sketches, the general ensemble balance was well handled, especially with the slightly unnatural layout restrictions of the venue which resulted in a few instances where the strings seemed to overpower the woodwind solos throughout the second sketch. The third sketch showed the orchestra at it’s best, with sections entering unanimously, and with perfect intonation and rhythmic clarity, which was especially evident in the brass fanfare-esque section. Overall, a very successful interpretation and performance of one of Debussy’s more challenging works.
To follow on from La Mer, the audience was treated to Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto by virtuosic soloist Hector Halford-Macleod. The orchestra entered with fine intonation and clear rhythmic unity, pathing the way for the piano to enter. The balance was generally very well handled again in the concerto, with only minor instances of the orchestra overpowering the piano, which were quickly rectified by the careful direction of Mackinder. The musicianship and skill shown by Hector in the various movements was exceptional, with careful consideration taken on the issues of dynamics and phrasing, which are so important in an orchestrally accompanied concerto. As ever, with concerti, the orchestra must react very quickly to the conductor’s ques after piano-only sections, and for the most part this as enacted with precision, with the orchestra entering with care, and aligning back into the format of an accompaniment. Overall, however, the concerto was played with great musicianship, both on the part of the soloist, Hector, but also on the part of the orchestral players. It takes a huge amount of skill and attentiveness to play alongside a solo instrument, and credit must be given to Mackinder for his clear direction throughout.
Post-interval, the orchestra got ready to astound the audience once again with their interpretation of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. The orchestra seemed much more comfortable now, with the intonation much more stable and the tone richer amongst the strings, even at the lower and upper registers, of which both were explored in the symphony. It was a pleasure to hear the Cor Anglais solo beam through the texture, played musically by Fran Howard, and whose intonation and phrasing were both very impressive. It was unfortunate however, that the melodic lines of the horns were sometimes lost behind the homogenous sound of the strings, and the intonation of a few brass chords were slightly uneasy at times, but the overall clarity, tone and musicianship of the players was evident here, very clearly. The second movement was particularly impressive, starting with true gusto and power, with the orchestra’s enthusiasm matched only by the energy displayed by Mackinder himself. Of note here, was the superb clarinet solo played my Cam Wyke, whose clear tone, and musical phrasing helped to create a more rounded and warm texture through the orchestral colour. It would have been nice to have seen more phrasing and musicality put into the smaller interjections from various sections, it was at times rather static in terms of musicality in the minor thematic ideas scattered throughout the winds and brass. However, every care was taken to create an interpretation of the symphony that focussed on every detail, keeping that sense of enthusiasm and focus all the way to the end, which is especially impressive given the scale of the work.
“Overall, a near flawless example of some of Durham’s best orchestral players, performing homogeneously together as one; with a truly wonderful programme”
As evident to both myself, and the audience, the concert was a great success. The orchestra’s playing showed the true talent that surrounds here at Durham, and the sound and musicianship evident showed the orchestra forming into a true collective and I look forward to hearing their developemnt later in the year, when they have grown once again as an ensemble. Special mention must be given to Alex Mackinder and Becky Taylor for their excellent leadership of the orchestra; and to Hector for his glorious performance of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto. Mackinder envisaged truly wonderful interpretations of the works and enacted his ideas thoughtfully and musically to the orchestra, who reacted extremely well to his gestures. Overall, a near flawless example of some of Durham’s best orchestral players, performing homogeneously together as one; with a truly wonderful programme