Brahms: Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Copland: Clarinet Concerto, Schubert: Symphony No. 9

CUCO prove they can still do the canon, but HARRY DADSWELL wants a programme with a bit more of a bang.

Brahms conservative Copland CUCO cums cums concerto competition Endellion Harry Dadswell joe shiner joseph shiner ninth symphony peter stark Schubert sinfonia variations on a theme of haydn

West Road Concert Hall, Saturday 10th March, £5/£13/£16


Tonight’s performance of Brahms, Copland and Schubert under conductor Peter Stark was both impressive and professional. The climactic passages of the opening number, Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Haydn, were executed with the requisite majestic swagger although some of the quieter contrapuntal passages were out of time.

The Brahms was followed by Copland’s clarinet concerto, performed by the winner of the CUMS concerto competition, Caius music student Joseph Shiner. Shiner breathed life into this two-movement work, relishing the soaring notes of the opening movement before making a swift transition to the feisty cadenza and final movement. Perhaps more could have been done to accentuate the more rhythmic jazz-influenced passages, although he compensated with some rather suave head-rolling. Special mention must be made of the orchestral strings and their ability to bring both energy and clarity to the frantic accompaniment of the final movement; one of the most enjoyable parts of the evening.

The concert ended with Schubert’s ‘Great’ Ninth Symphony; an epic work never performed during the composer’s lifetime, which makes considerable demands upon the stamina of any orchestra. The work contains long drawn-out passages, which the orchestra kept alive with a slow-burning intensity. The trombones were particularly effective, using their repetitive rising figures to build up tension over the course of the first movement. All sections ratcheted up the energy for the finale: sharp detail from the strings, blazing brass and tight woodwind. My heart goes out to all the string players who must be suffering repetitive strain injury from those endless recurring accompaniment patterns. Only one word of advice: could that trumpeter who is unable to count bars in his head at least adopt a less distracting technique of doing so!

All in all, the musicians leaped through the challenges of the programme. I would, however, like to urge those who decide the repertoire of CUCO to be more imaginative and daring in the future. All of the concerts I have attended by this orchestra have been limited to a rather conservative canon of Mozart, Brahms and the like. Is there not space to showcase this ensemble’s undeniable talent with something more modern or unusual?

Some ensembles which appear at West Road, such as the  Britten Sinfonia, deliver consistently interesting programmes; whereas others (the Endellion String Quartet for one) abide by the dutiful, tired Haydn-Mendelssohn-Beethoven formulas. Tonight’s sparkling performance of the more modern Copland concerto’s brief final movement left me wanting more. As they say: variety is the spice of life, and CUCO players deserve the right menu to show off the true depths and flavours of their musical talent.