Leamington Chamber Orchestra
All Saints Church, Leamington
AN ORCHESTRA should, one would imagine, be more than the sum of its parts and in this interestingly-programmed concert we had the chance to test that theory in detail.
One piece to isolate the strings, one to turn the spotlight on brass and wind, and then a final coming-together to complete the examination.
Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen is a challenge, a continually writhing knot of repeated themes on a swirling undercurrent rarely settling for long among its 23 players. The LCO string players, opting to stand where possible, played with concentration and a creditably wide dynamic. This is not an easy piece. It has almost unathomable emotional depth and the orchestra handled that side well.
Given the fragility of some of the orchestration of this piece, often taken down to the barely audible with competing lines starkly on show, intonation is everything. Discrepancies between instruments, however slight, will never be hidden here and there were, it must be said, a few moments which jarred.
Once Strauss’s sweeping melodies and harmonies took over, though, the playing was excellent and much praise should go to conductor Richard Laing for maintaining a tempo which was reflective without ever dropping into ponderous.
Much could also be said of Mendelssohn’s test for the wind section – a rarely-chosen eleven player version offering a more optimistic feel than the Strauss but again suffering at the hands of a few hesitant entries and mismatched volume balances.
But put all these players together and behold what a forceful, confident orchestra the become.
The Brahms first symphony which followed the interval was sublime. Faultless balance and tempo with players suddenly comfortable in their roles and conspiring to fill even the cavernous spaces of this church with a sound ranging from crisp to deliciously lyrical.
The strings were as pin sharp in the pizzicato sections opening the last movement as the horns and woodwind had been strong and dependable when the slow second movement called on them.
Brahms packs big themes and familiar full-on orchestration in this fine symphony and the orchestra made the most of the richness on offer with a splendid, utterly engaging performance showing the unquestionable benefits of ensemble playing. Top marks for that.
It’s not altogether clear why the orchestra chooses to stage its concerts on Sunday afternoons but on the whole it works. Starting in winter sunshine and finishing under stage lights provides an ever-changing background in the stunning setting of this church.
The LCO returns in March with another from the front rank of symphonists, Sibelius. Full details of that programme and other concerts can be found at leamingtonchamberorchestra.org.uk.
All Saints hosts music later this month when Pergolesi’s ever-popular Stabat Mater can be heard in a free afternoon concert on Sunday November 14.