Category Archives: Reviews

Unfinished Business Reviews

Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra

Lichfield Cathedral

Saturday 2 October 2010

by Richard Bratby

It’s time to stop referring to the Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra as a new venture.  With this concert at Lichfield Cathedral – smartly played, in front of a large audience, and recorded for national broadcast by Classic FM – it’s safe to say that DECO has arrived.  This locally-based chamber orchestra, founded and run by violinist Alexander Laing, is a Lichfield success story on a national scale.

Sadly, Laing himself was (temporarily) absent from the leader’s seat.  But the standard of DECO’s playing under regular conductor Philip Scriven was testimony to the high-quality core of regular players that Laing has established.  Lichfield Cathedral can be a ticklish acoustic for an orchestra, but clearly, lessons have been learned and tonight DECO got the balance between strings and woodwind spot on.

That’s all the more impressive when you consider that this must have been one of the largest orchestras that DECO has ever fielded.  The concert opened with a shapely performance of Mozart’s overture to “The Magic Flute”.  Scriven found a nice path between underlying calm and skittering surface.  Mozart’s racing string figures danced brilliantly over majestic foundations, and woodwind solos were deftly shaped at speed.

Schubert’s “Unfinished” symphony was even more convincing, Scriven making the most of Schubert’s ever-shifting blends of tone-colour.  Woody flutes, burnished horns, and – in the opening phrase – a dark, mahogany blend of cello and bass tone all sounded through, expressive and enchanting.

Attention to detail paid off: in the first movement, in the lilting, gently-phrased accompaniment to the cellos’ famous second subject; in the Andante, the way the trombones strode terrifyingly through the climaxes like the Commendatore in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”.  Clarinettist Luan Shaw and oboist George Caird sang their great duet with melting tenderness.

And at the heart of the concert came a sparkling performance of Haydn’s C major Cello Concerto, with soloist Rowena Calvert.  Scriven hurried Haydn’s mock-baroque rhetoric along; DECO responded with bravura, and at the centre of it all, Calvert fizzed through Haydn’s finger-twisting passagework with breathtaking clarity and gorgeous tone.  A terrific concert, by any standards: in DECO, Lichfield has a first rate professional orchestra.  Spread the word!


“Unfinished Business”


Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra (DECO)

Conductor: Philip Scriven with Rowena Calvert: Cello.

Saturday 2nd October 2010  Lichfield Cathedral

Reviewed by:   Christopher Arnold – Express and Star


“Classic FM has broadened the range of people enjoying mainstream classical music, often by presenting highlights or single movements of symphonies deemed too long to hold the attention of busy people.  But nothing can compare to the excitement and energy of top class live performances of entire works.

Just such an experience was provided by Lichfield’s Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra with their conductor Philip Scriven who accompanied the brilliant young cellist, Rowena Calvert in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C.

The enthusiastic audience in Lichfield’s atmospheric Cathedral were spellbound by playing which reminded the more mature listener of the brilliance and passion of Jacqueline du Pre at her finest.  Ms Calvert’s cello was by Serafin a venetian maker from the eighteenth century. In her hands a dazzling technique produced music with lightning energy and the deepest of dark brown leather tones.  Haydn is one of the few composers whose optimism for life shines through his music.  Ms Calvert’s sensitive cadenzas reflected this mood so that by the end of the third movement a wonderful sense of well being suffused the audience.

The concert began with Mozart’s overture to the Magic Flute, which allowed the woodwind section to shine with particularly exciting performances from the flute and oboe sections. Schubert’s unfinished symphony provided the second half of the evening.  The dark brooding cellos and hovering strings supported the woodwind in depicting the terrifying and stormy scenes in the first movement.  The ensemble was perfect with the quietest of pianissimos giving way to well controlled crescendos and a balanced fortissimo.  The second movement pictured black clouds with just glimpses of light evoking a heart wrenching angst.

Perhaps ending a programme with an unfinished piece left the audience wanting more.  I would have been keen to hear any of the attempts at finishing this masterpiece, perhaps those of Abraham, or Safronof might be worthy of attention.  If not, perhaps an encore?