In their first concert of the year, the Symphony Orchestra of DUOS kicked off the season with a powerful programme.

We’re off with Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture, beginning with soft woodwinds and horns presenting the chorale of the pilgrim’s hymn, a confident sound although not quite together on their entry. A spectacularly rich and full-bodied string section joins them, before the great release of the chorale in the brass, supported by the instantly recognisable spirited strings. I felt at times the brass came across somewhat angry, rather than welcoming Tannhäuser home. However, their new conductor Marcello Palazzo’s increasingly majestic conducting as the music swelled with more power brought the best out of the musicians, and created a passionate and powerful delivery of this magnificent staple of the orchestral canon.

 

Next, we have the fiendishly difficult Bartók Viola Concerto, with soloist Laura Cooper in her concerto debut. A brilliant start by Laura, with great legato and phrasing, although occasionally I would have liked her to ‘let rip’ a little more. Again, woodwinds must take care with entries and ensure they are breathing together. Strings upheld their unified sound, albeit with some inconsistency on whether vibrato is used or not on held chords, although this is a small detail in what was otherwise a successful performance. Communication between Laura and Marcello was great which is no mean feat for the conductor in this work; their preparation in the masterclass with conductor Timothy Burke certainly seemed to have paid off. Laura sustained her excellent control and her verve only grew stronger. Her virtuosity and character in bringing this fantastic piece to life rightly blew away the audience; an excellent rendition of a formidable concerto by DUOS and their President, Laura.

‘Laura’s virtuosity and character in bringing this fantastic piece to life rightly blew away the audience; an excellent rendition of a formidable concerto’

Finally, we conclude with Dvořák’s inimitable ‘New World’ Symphony. A now characteristically strong and fused string section softly opens the work, before the sudden change of dynamic brings in the woodwinds and timpani. Alas, the timpanist was late, albeit with excellent attack; and again, woodwinds could have been more together. From the whole orchestra generally, I was searching for more consistent and controlled build-up and release in longer phrases; however, the solos among woodwinds in this first movement were very well done.

 

‘Marcello Palazzo’s conducting extracted beautiful musicality from the players’ 

The second movement begins with a brass chorale. Although beginning shakily, it climaxed beautifully, with a wonderfully warm and rich sound. The well-known cor anglais solo was passionately played by Jonathan Blake. He battled with a somewhat unpredictable instrument but overcame these difficulties immensely to play with a characteristically dreamy tone. Double basses had excellent pizzicato, and the orchestral balance was brilliant. Marcello’s conducting extracted beautiful musicality from the players; perhaps slightly more clear-cut gestures could ensure players are even more confident with their entries.

The energetic scherzo injected a burst of energy into the room. Unfortunately, again, late timpani; perhaps in future they may need to pre-empt the orchestra a little more.  Intonation in violins was occasionally flat in the higher register, but I enjoyed the interplay between strings and woodwinds in this movement.

And we come to the finale, beginning with the highly-anticipated ‘Jaws’ theme.  DUOS did not disappoint.  Excellent energy and attack, and a giddy dance-like section was a treat for the audience.  The quieter times could have been a little more tantalising although the powerful sections were brilliant.  Katie Fyffe produced a beautiful clarinet solo, with smooth phrasing.  Although some of the changes into a slower tempo seemed to take the orchestra a little by surprise, the immense power of the orchestra was incredible to witness, and the final soft woodwind chord ended the symphony with a good effect.

The debut performance of DUOS 2019-20 has certainly been a success, with a brave and bold programme, fierce playing, and wonderful musicianship all round.  I certainly look forward to seeing what DUOS Chamber have in store on Saturday 7 December in the Great Hall of Durham Castle.

Edward Walters