JOE CONWAY’s weekly column returns, with a guest review from JEFF CARPENTER.
CUMS 1 Symphony Orchestra. 30th October, 8pm, West Road Concert Hall. £16/£13/£5
All CUMS 1 concerts are special occasions, not only because this is the university’s showcase symphony orchestra but also because it’s constantly reinventing itself. New intakes of students, new conductors, new ideas about programming – these changes help to keep everyone on their toes.
The orchestra’s first outing of the season was an Anglo-Russian programme which contained a world premiere, a rarely heard concerto, and a magnificent symphony. It also included plenty of exciting and exhilarating playing from the orchestra and a splendid performance by star cellist Robbie Stanley-Smith.
Playing from memory and sitting on an acoustically useful podium Robbie put everything into his performance of Walton’s Cello Concerto. Accuracy, intense preparation, and the utmost care with tuning were only part of the story. Robbie used his powerful technical armoury to convey the bitter-sweet heart of the music. Lyrical and petulant, elegiac and aggressive in turn, this score is unusually recondite for Walton and needs advocacy. In Robbie it has found a champion.
Earlier the CUMS 1 strings had given the world premiere of Bax’s Symphonic Serenade. Had they waited a few months longer it would have taken exactly 100 years for this work to reach the concert platform! Written in 1911 and reconstructed from a piano score by Graham Parlett, it invites comparison with Elgar’s great Introduction and Allegro written only six years earlier. Luscious sonorities, gorgeous Elgarian tunes, and at times an odd hint of the Bax of the Fourth Symphony in more gutsy, rhythmic passages.
True there were one or two issues of intonation in the very high first violin part, and the orchestra’s new principal conductor Martin Yates could have worked harder to secure more unanimous lower string pizzicatos in the Walton, but these were only minor glitches. And after the interval everyone contributed to a super-charged and appropriately erotic performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. Martin’s speeds were excellent and he wisely allowed plenty of time for some spectacularly sensual clarinet and cor anglais solos. Mmmm . . .
Duo Figaro, Mill Quartet. 29th October, 6pm, St Catharine’s Chapel. £6/£4/£2
I’d not been to Catz before and was suitably charmed by the quiet dignity of the chapel, the huge breakfront reredos, the mellow timber, and the flickering candlelight. And, needless to say, by a delightful programme of early romantic chamber music.
Two ensembles took part, each playing a characteristic example of its repertoire. Duo Figaro consists of violinist Lucia D’Avanzo and violist Peter Mallinson, who played a rare Duo by one Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda. No, I hadn’t heard of him either, but his four-movement piece proved a worthwhile trip down an unusual musical by-way. It may not have plumbed many depths, but it was tuneful, easy on the ear, and cleverly written for the two instruments. Lucia and Peter gave it a really persuasive performance, working as a team, emphasising melodies, keeping accompaniments in the background, and producing a mellow, glowing sound.
Schumann’s Piano Quartet is a much better known piece. It too is tuneful and easy on the ear, but it plumbs depths and tweaks heart-strings too. Always struggling and aspiring, the music is graced by moments of sweetness and heroism.
The Mill Quartet includes some of the most accomplished young musicians around and is led by violinist Fra Rustumji with Imogen Tedbury on viola. Both ladies contributed memorably beautiful playing, but much of the quartet belongs to the cello and piano, played by Conrad Steel and Freddie Brown. Conrad played his many solos with magnificent musicality, and Freddie realised that the only way to deal with Schumann’s often cluttered right-hand parts is to play them almost inaudibly.
ALL NIGHT LONG
Vespers by Rachmaninoff, St. John’s Music Society. Friday 29th October, 9pm, St. John’s College Chapel, £5/£4.
St. John’s chapel (already a good start) lit up with a ton of candles like in Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet, filled with sublime a cappella music performed by some of Cambridge’s finest vocal talent, all dressed in classy black. What an absolutely stunning evening.
Music for an Orthodox Vespers service must have no organ or accompaniment and sound a bit like the old-fashioned monks’ plainchant, the original music. Couple that with Rachminoff’s infamously rich and powerful harmonies (often six parts or more), going up to fortissimo every now and again, and you have an idea of what it might sound like.
St. John’s Music Society singers were absolutely on top form. When they opened their mouths for the first movement, we heard the purest, richest, and most gorgeous chord come right out as if one voice, filling the space exactly as a choir should. From then on, all we had to do was sit back and bask in the power of the music.
The Russian-style vibratos on the fortissimos and during some of the quieter moments were a particular treat, all led sensitively and subtly by conductor John Challenger. The soloists too, with the gorgeously deep and dramatic alto of Amy Lyddon and the soaring, beautiful tenor of Bradley Smith, were spot-on and would not be out of place in the Royal Albert Hall (or such-like).
Though my ass did begin to hurt on those right-angle hardwood benches, let’s face it, we had the pleasure of watching one of Cambridge’s finest vocal ensembles and listening to one of Choral music’s most treasured works. Five stars all round.
CLASSICAL GIGS OF THE WEEK
TUESDAY 2nd NOVEMBER 1.10pm, West Road, CUCO Chamber Ensemble
WEDNESDAY 3rd 1pm, Emmanuel URC, Jon Fistein (cello), Graeme Mitchison (piano)
THURSDAY 4th 8pm, Kettle’s Yard, Owen Willetts (counter-tenor), Nathan Vane (tenor), Jonathan Beatty (piano)
FRIDAY 5th 1.10pm, Kettle’s Yard, Adam Powell (flute). 1.10pm, Mumford Theatre, Acoustic Earth. 6pm, St Catherine’s, Alastair Penman (saxophone), Kausikan Rajeshkumar (piano)
SATURDAY 6th 2pm, Michaelhouse, Vivace Ensemble. 6.30pm, King’s, Stephen Cleobury (organ). 7.30pm, West Road, Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra. 7.30pm, St Mark’s Church Newnham, Waterbeach Brass
SUNDAY 7th John’s, 6pm, Ben-San Lau (organ)