Orchestra of the Swan Sibelius review

RARE SIBELIUS IN STRATFORD

ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN
Stratford Play House ****
Under David Le Page's artistic direction the Orchestra of the Swan is exploring increasingly imaginative programming. A couple of years ago it would have been difficult to envisage an all-Sibelius evening such as this one, particularly with most of the offerings little-known rarities, but here it almost entirely worked.
My only reservation was that the programme was perhaps too generous, limiting the rehearsal time devoted to each piece. Were this the case, it certainly didn't show in these fresh, generous performances given to a packed house.
We began on familiar ground with the Swan of Tuonela, conductor Tom Hammond setting a veiled, atmospheric scene for Louise Braithwaite's plangent, otherworldly and beautifully sustained cor anglais solo. Nick Stringfellow collaborated with poignant cello interjections.
Throughout the concert we discerned how much Sibelius applied his timbres like the brushed tones of a painter, not least in the busy score he composed right at the end of his working career for a production of The Tempest. We heard four of the movements here, the many solo contributions captivating, and not least the haunting flute of Diane Clark.
Tamsin Waley-Cohen was soloist in the Humoresques for Violin and Orchestra, miniatures in content but redolent of the awesome technical demands of the composer's Violin Concerto, Waley-Cohen bringing not only fluent bowing but also a huge range of colour, from earthy G-string tones to whistling harmonics fluting high in the ether.
The famous Valse Triste was a little studied, lacking the haunted ballroom lilt it so piquantly evokes, and its companion Scene with Cranes seemed short of mystery.
But then came one of the world's greatest symphonies, Sibelius' Seventh, terse, concise, but so full of significance in every bar. Hammond drew from the orchestra both the score's joyousness and grim affirmation, Martha Ann Brookes' pivotal trombone solos noble and awe-inspiring, the music moving towards a conclusion of granite strength. Perhaps the final, hard-won C major cadence might have been protracted a little more grindingly, but no matter. This was an awesome performance.
Christopher Morley

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