Durham University Orchestral Society pulled off a fantastically challenging concert last night; with the forces of the Chamber and Symphony Orchestras combined, the height of Durham’s instrumental musicianship was certainly on show.

The Chamber Orchestra began the concert with Wilhelm Stenhammar’s ‘Ett Drömspel’. This highly atmospheric incidental music was an effective start to the evening. The timing of the orchestra was absolutely together, aided by the accurately evocative technique of their conductor, Theo Golden. Legato phrasing was superb among woodwinds especially, and the bass and cellos created great intensity and tension which was released in climaxes that were thoroughly enlivened by the energetic percussion section. Beautiful harmonic writing was brought out very well.

Next came Francis Poulenc’s ‘Sinfonietta’, giving the orchestra a chance to show what they can do with overtly melodic writing. Legato was generally beautiful across the orchestra, with especially good playing from the French horns, bringing across the lush French Romantic style. I felt that the legato at the beginning of the third movement occasionally lost its direction, although this did improve. Trumpet tonguing was excellent and tricky passages in woodwinds and strings were played with great verve and technical accuracy. The later dialogue between these sections was very enjoyable amid fantastically characterful playing.

The second half of the concert was performed by the Symphony Orchestra, beginning with Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Fantasy Overture, ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The level of intensity was good, although timing was not quite as together as Chamber. Short bursts of agony in the music were played very movingly however I felt the cellos needed a smoother legato with less ebbing on each note. The ferocious martial theme was played with great attack and energy, although occasionally I wanted more surprise when the motif repeated itself before its completion. The lyrical ‘love’ theme was phrased beautifully. A syncopated section by the strings was played very together, although woodwinds kept fighting back a little early on the beat. Rapid string writing was played with impressive virtuosity.

Legato phrasing was superb among woodwinds especially, and the bass and cellos created great intensity and tension which was released in climaxes that were thoroughly enlivened by the energetic percussion section.

Trumpet tonguing was excellent and tricky passages in woodwinds and strings were played with great verve and technical accuracy. The later dialogue between these sections was very enjoyable amid fantastically characterful playing.

The concert was finished off with the uncommon ‘Spring Fire’ by Arnold Bax. The spooky, overcast opening reminded me of the concert’s beginning. Throughout the work, the orchestra displayed wonderful energy and effective changes of character around the depiction of the antics surrounding the birth of Spring in Greek mythology. The writing of this music is notoriously difficult, so difficult in fact that its scheduled world premiere by the Royal Philharmonic Society with Thomas Beecham in 1916 was cancelled. The swirling string figures were very well managed, albeit with occasional intonation issues. The associated syncopated brass fanfares were also highly effective. Dynamic control across the orchestra was brilliant and brought this rarely-heard masterpiece to life.

DUOS were on a very high form tonight with a musically demanding concert. Make sure to see DUOS on the 8th and 22nd of June at Durham Cathedral in Easter Term!