Winter Warmers Review

DECO_WinterWarmer_A5Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra
Leader: Alex Laing
Conductor: Philip Scriven
Soloists: George Caird (oboe), Jane Salmon (cello)
Lichfield Cathedral, Saturday 11th February 2012
“Winter Warmers”
Reviewed by Chris Arnold

 

In these times of economic depression, the opportunity to lose yourself in great music, expertly performed needs to be seized.

The setting of a great cathedral with a generous acoustic can create an atmosphere of awe and majesty.  Saturday’s offering from the Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra was a perfect match with Lichfield Cathedral.  Soloist Jane Salmon’s mastery of the cello expertly captured the mood of Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile with dark brown and even chocolaty resonances.  The muted strings of the orchestra were well balanced to the soloist who brought out the melodic and romantic sense of the piece.  The audience were completely spellbound and the silence at the end attested to the power of the performance.

Samuel Barber is best known for his Adagio for strings.  So popular is it that there are versions for a string quartet, string orchestra and even choir.  The challenge for any live performance is to sustain the line though the longest of crescendos, whilst controlling the fiendishly difficult tuning.  Conductor Philip Scriven furnished an exquisite performance which moved the audience, some to tears.  The ethereal final pianissimo was sublime reminding some that the words used in the choral version are from the Mass – give us peace.

If asked to name British post war composers we might mention Britten, Vaughn Williams and perhaps Tippet.  Few would offer Kenneth Leighton, yet it is Leighton who is probably most performed, his music being popular in Cathedrals and churches.  His “Veris Gratia” was composed whilst still a student at Oxford and provides a very English platform for a string orchestra with solo oboe and cello beautifully played by George Caird and Jane Salmon.  The opening Lento is full of post war emotion depicted by the dazzling technique of soloist George Caird whose oboe playing was as delicate as lace whilst evoking  the emergence of spring from winter. The allegro was so English, you could almost smell the grass and the piece ended with a spiritual feeling suggesting the composer’s future direction.

Barber may be best known for his Adagio, but he was no one hit wonder as the Canzonetta showed. Haunting harmonies supported a melodic line suggesting questions and doubt. The result was sheer beauty.

Grieg’s Holberg Suite provided the opportunity for the whole orchestra, led by Alex Laing to shine.  It is a courtly work depicting love, elegance, conversation and dance.  The ensemble was excellent and the group seemed to enjoy the experience themselves.

Live performances, expertly delivered provide the listener with an experience impossible to replicate by any recording.  The communication between performer and audience is intense.  The sounds of the evening are still going round in my head.  This group is to be congratulated for breaking free of the Classic FM repertoire.

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