Earthbound provided another option to showcase Music Durham’s expansive and extensive range of musical talent. From Blues to Haydn, various ensembles demonstrated impressive commitment to a wide spectrum of musical expression under a collective theme; earth.
Accompanying reception were the Divinity Quintet and Durham’s Flute Choir. The Divinity Quintet were well-balanced and managed to carry the sound extremely well given the outdoor acoustic. Excellent tonguing, healthy posture and professional breath control all added to the quality timbre in both lyrical and lively passages to embody the whimsically classical aesthetic of Saint-Saëns ‘Carnival of the Animals.’ Despite a few minor slips, altogether a great performance; an exciting prospect for the outreach projects the Quintet are currently pursuing . Following on, the Flute Choir opted for crowd-pleasers with songs such as ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, providing a light-hearted contrast. Tuning and balance were for the most part adequate, although solos could have been more clearly defined, both in dynamics and phrasing. The ensemble failed to compensate sufficiently for the outdoor acoustic, yet this is understandable due to the hazy timbre of the flute.
The Brass Band started the concert vivaciously with Zawinul’s classic, ‘Birdland.’ Swung rhythms were mostly together, although interludes were somewhat messy which was amplified by the titanic acoustic of the Great Hall which also tended to blur sound during louder passages. Their second number – ‘Born Free’ by Barry – showed a wider range of dynamics which were handled well and an extremely effective glockenspiel during the atmospheric introduction. Generally, tuning and balance were spot on apart from flatness in the trumpets during an inverted pedal. The phrasing could have been more sensitive during passages with lyrical sentiment.
DUCE followed with Haydn’s ‘Creation’ Overture, with heart-wrenching harmonies almost reminiscent of Wagner which were grasped expressively. They impressed the audience by standing up and memorising the music, showing great commitment to the repertoire and allowing them to focus on interacting with both conductor and audience. Whilst balance and control of dynamics were commendable, intonation was sometimes questionable, especially amongst the violins during quiet passages, where tone also suffered.
Next came Full Score who, despite some untidy changes in tempo and uncertainty with the starting note of ‘Wade in the Water’, were very enjoyable. Attractive harmony was handled competently and the solo by Alex Mackinder was rich in tone, lyrical and carried very well in the hall. The introduction of ‘A Red, Red Rose’ by David Wright was uncertain and messy, whilst dynamic range could be extended for dramatic effect. However, this was compensated for by expressive and clear singing. Full Score were extremely impressive but they need to interact more with the audience, which could be aided with the removal of a conductor; a trademark of authentic barbershop ensembles.
The Dunelm Consort and Players ended the first half superbly. Their balance and musical expression was first-rate, creating a mesmerising performance which fully utilised the expansive acoustic. Technique was exemplary, with stunning breath control and tone being notable attributes of their impressive vocal armoury. The blend of sound was generally great, although occasionally the sopranos protruded from the sonic merge. However, this is a minor fault in a stellar performance and thoroughly enjoyable first half.
Initiating the second half was the Hill Orchestra playing J. Strauss’ ‘Rose from the South.’ Tempo changes through the different musical characters were often static and plucking was generally untogether. However, waltz sections were suitable dance-like and complicated passages were generally handled well. Accompaniment was well-balanced and sure. Voices followed with a vocal rendition of a previous Flute Choir piece, ‘Fields of Gold’ by Sting. With only three tenors and basses outnumbered by 16 sopranos and altos, balance was expectedly skewed.
Melodies tended to lack expression and dynamics remained largely unchanged throughout. However, they sung mostly together and they engaged with the audience well through their enjoyment.
Next came Durham Dynamics. The bass ostinato failed to blend and the melodies needed more thoughtful phrasing. I also think the arrangement would benefit with additional harmonic accompaniment at times. However, they impressed the audience with some hearty beat-boxing and generally accurate intonation and note-singing, as well as the finest interaction with the audience of the entire evening.
DUPO concluded the evening with Gershwin’s ‘An American in Paris’ as the thrilling finale. Rapid scalic runs were clean and delicious harmony was handled effectively. Dynamic contrast and tuning were good whilst rubato was appropriately applied, notably in the luxurious trumpet solo. Besides a few minor slips during fast passages, the orchestra was together, handling areas of rhythmic complexity with ease. Special mention must be given to the outstanding violin solo which was musical and quaint, as well as to Hugo Jennings for his superb leadership and enthusiastic conducting.
The evening witnessed a vast spectrum of musical ability and genre, showing Music Durham’s encompassing and diverse approach to student performance. Unified through the Earthbound theme, tonight stands as a mark of musical prestige for Durham University for its standards of musical inclusion, diversity and proficiency.