Written in the Wind Review – Lichfield Express and Star

DECO_WrittenintheWindA nineteenth century critic described the oboe as “…an instrument that is more than even the English can stand indoors”, so spending a Saturday night listening to an ensemble led by an oboe might not appeal to many.

How wrong can that be?  The Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra’s wind section displayed mastery of Mozart and Dvorak in an evening which brought smiles to many faces in the enthusiastic Lichfield Cathedral audience.Leader George Caird, directed the ensemble through Mozart’s well known serenade for wind octet.  The range of colours in the piece was remarkable given the small instrumental forces with the oboes and clarinets stealing the show.  But it was the arrangements of Mozart’s operatic arias that fascinated most.  Caird explained their origins as “the downloads of their day”.  Mozart’s tunes were so popular that wind bands would arrange them so that they could be reproduced easily and used in other settings.  They were charming and fun – not mere echoes of the arias but adding new textures and even humour. Dvorak’s serenade offered majestic melodies, a dream like minuet, the sweetest of oboe sounds and a sound portrait of modern life.  Live music at its best.by Christopher Arnold

Written in the Wind Review – Lichfield Mercury

DECO_WrittenintheWind“Written in the Wind” was the title of the latest Lichfield cathedral concert by the Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra. This was DECO stripped back to its basic wind and brass section – just eight players in all, directed by veteran principal oboe, George Caird.

But any fear that an all-wind programme might lead to monotony was very quickly dispelled. As Caird pointed out, this was a favourite line-up of Mozart’s – and the concert opened with Mozart’s moody C minor Wind Serenade. After a slightly shaky start, this blossomed into a taut-paced, enjoyable performance.

And if three of Triebensee’s wind-band arrangements of arias from Mozart’s Don Giovanni tended to point up just how imaginative, by contrast, was Mozart’s own scoring – well, they were played with irresistible charm. After the interval came Dvorak’s wonderfully folksy Wind Serenade; adorable music, played with bright-eyed enthusiasm and real tenderness. Peter Wilson went at Dvorak’s delightfully incongruous cello part as if it was the same composer’s Cello Concerto. Simply terrific.

by Richard Bratby

Titan, Myth and Legend Review

DECO_TitanMyth&Legend_A5DECO’s October concert was exactly that. On paper, it looked short: Beethoven’s Prometheus overture, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and Mozart’s 40th Symphony, under the baton of former Lichfield Cathedral organist Philip Scriven. But there was nothing of the choirstalls about these performances. DECO knows Lichfield Cathedral intimately, and turns an acoustic that some performers find problematic into a positive strength.

So Scriven and his players tore into the Beethoven at a phenomenal lick, and took the outer movements of the Mozart at near-identical tempi – a molto allegro that was very much molto. The Andante lilted along with dance-like poise, while the minuet, conducted by Scriven in a robust three, became an anchor-point for the whole symphonic arc – making the four movements one conception and proving that there are always new perspectives to be found even in music as familiar as this.

The Wagner, meanwhile, benefited from the qualities of DECO’s handpicked woodwind team; George Caird’s rich, articulate oboe tone in particular singing through Wagner’s (at times) near-impressionistic writing. It could almost have been Ravel. DECO may be small, but it’s wonderfully generous with its musicianship.

The Spring Collection Reviews

The Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra called Saturday’s concert “The Spring Collection”, and on paper, at least, it didn’t look particularly meaty – a light summer salad rather than a musical steak dinner. Conductor Philip Scriven and Artistic Director Alex Laing had built the programme around Mozart’s featherweight First Flute Concerto, and neither Handel’s G major “Water Music” suite nor Schubert’s Fifth Symphony are exactly blockbusters.

But as DECO proves time and again, it’s a question of musical quality, not scale.

This band has the knack of making everything it plays sound vibrantly alive. A large and enthusiastic audience and the latest in DECO’s seemingly-inexhaustible store of first-rate soloists – flautist Lisa Nelsen – did the rest. Nelsen played the Mozart with a sunny tone and buckets of charm; DECO matched her with a spirited accompaniment.

Earlier, Scriven had brought a dance-like grace and some deft phrasing to the Handel, and the same qualities made the Schubert a particular delight. In a large modern concert hall, this delicious little teenage Symphony can sound almost toy-like. Not here, though, as keening woodwind and vigorous strings probed each nuance of light and shade. It’s a masterpiece, after all – how satisfying to hear it played like one!


Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra
Leader Alex Laing, conductor Philip Scriven, soloist Lisa Nelson
Venue: Lichfield Cathedral  12th May 2012
By Chris Arnold


Lichfield’s artistic offering has been generous this week, beginning with the spectacular Lichfield Mysteries over the bank holiday and ending with DECO’s spring collection on Saturday.  The evening began with Handel’s Water Music suite number three.  This graceful piece allowed the strings, led by Alex Laing to show off their sweetest tones and most controlled pianissimo.  The dance like finale set many feet tapping.

Undoubtedly the centre piece was the Mozart flute concerto number 1.  All eyes and ears were on Lisa Nelson, the Canadian virtuoso whose silvery tone reminded some more mature concert goers of James Galway.  Her lightness of touch and a confident upper register created a dreamy and sublime atmosphere with audience members closing their eyes to appreciate the moment more.  Particularly pleasing was the contrast between the high flute and the sonorous strings playing in their lower registers.  The cadenzas allowed her to show off her stunning technique whilst paying suitable respect to Mozart.

Schubert was only nineteen when he wrote his fifth symphony.  Conductor Philip Scriven produced a divine opening from the orchestra with beautiful woodwind playing blending perfectly with the strings.  Whilst the brass may have lacked some definition, the overall sounds were lush and conveyed Schubert’s depth of emotion, unusual in such a young composer.

Whatever the music be it rock, jazz, classical, old or contemporary, there is no comparison between a recording and a live performance.  Lichfield is excelling in offering exciting live music to today’s audiences.