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!
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.