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Autumn Greats Reviews

Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra
Lichfield Cathedral
Saturday 29 October 2011

Richard Bratby

There’s always a buzz at any concert by the Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra but even so, this concert felt special. No question: in bringing the Classical Brit Award-winning violinist Jack Liebeck to Lichfield, DECO had scored quite a coup. But in the event, Liebeck’s performance of the Mendelssohn violin concerto, under conductor Philip Scriven, might just have been the best thing we’ve yet heard from this spirited and resourceful ensemble.

Liebeck isn’t an overtly glamorous performer; the star-quality is in his playing. His sound is generous and lustrous, yet charged with real imaginative fire. It made for a passionate, sometimes dazzling, but always gloriously songful reading of the Mendelssohn – and the DECO players were with him every note of the way, accompanying with both precision and imaginative flair. It drew a standing ovation from a well-filled Cathedral.

The concert had opened with a deft performance of Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte” overture, and continued after the interval with another jolt of musical energy – Beethoven’s barnstorming Seventh Symphony. It’s a demanding play, but DECO went at it “con brio”; the sound of those horns blasting their high notes into the vaults of the Cathedral was like a musical firework display, a week early.

“Autumn Greats”
Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra
Conductor Philip Scriven
Violin Soloist: Jack Liebeck
Lichfield Cathedral
29th October 2011

You could have heard a pin drop.  Where? In Lichfield Cathedral during Saturday’s performance by the star of the sound track of the new Holywood version of Jane Eyre.  Winner of the 2010 Classical BRIT award for “Young British Performer of the Year”, Jack Liebeck found time in his hectic schedule to treat concert goers in Lichfield to a stunning performance of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto.

The evening began conventionally with the Mozart overture to Cosi Fan Tutte.  The pace set by conductor Philip Scriven was ambitious and certainly depicted the gossiping young people at the centre of the plot of the opera.  The woodwind section rose to the challenge with some spectacular playing and the high notes offered by the first violins were as sweet as any found in more established orchestras, but it was the next piece, the violin concerto that delighted the enthusiastic audience.

Jack’s star playing of a period instrument demonstrated youthful energy alongside a spectacular technique and an ability to produce a spine tingling pianissimo in the highest notes as well as the mellowest sounds in the deep register.  The well known second movement demonstrated perfect control and the sweetness of sound managed to avoid the slushy sentimentality of some performances.  The playful last movement was most nimbly executed and excited the listeners who showed their appreciation with a standing ovation.

The evening concluded with one of the great pillars of the concert hall, Beethoven’s seventh symphony.  The orchestra found their stride with the woodwind offering some outstanding performances.  The trumpets, too were crisp although some lower brass lacked definition.  The second movement is always a challenge.  The heritage of very slow speeds popular in the mid twentieth century can tempt conductors to ignore Beethoven’s instructions.  Wagner called the piece “the apotheosis of the dance” and conductor Philip Scriven kept this spirit through a measured allegretto and some beautiful phrasing led by artistic director, Alex Laing.  The softest moments from the strings were a delight.  The scherzo demonstrated fine ensemble before the whirlwind of the final movement.  The pace was, perhaps, a little too ambitious, but the excitement of the players was appreciated by the audience.

Live performances of great music offer new and unique experiences every time.  I will remember the perfect silence of the audience during the cadenza in the Mendelssohn for a very long time.