Orchestra of the Swan at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire by Christopher Morley
It was a wonderful house-warming as Orchestra of the Swan moved into its new Birmingham residence on Bank Holiday afternoon, and there was a packed audience to savour the occasion.
Julian Lloyd Webber, RBC Principal, was the genial host, his batonless conducting, often with a cellist's sweep of phrasing and articulation as the music unfolded, drawing performances of utter enjoyment from the OOTS players, whose generous enthusiasm was unbounded.
There were three cellists in this relationship, Lloyd Webber collaborating with the remarkable Jian Wang (and conducting here scoreless in a work he himself has played countless times) in Haydn's lovely C Major Cello Concerto. Wang's initial entry was stunning and imposing, followed by flowing facility of passage-work conveyed through lissomly athletic bowing. The finale proved a spectacular technical display from both soloist and orchestra (such fizzing violin unisons).
Jiaxin Lloyd Webber partnered Jian Wang in Vivaldi's G minor Double Cello Concerto, the familiar Vivaldi template enlivened by the empathetic interplay and dynamic energy between the soloists. The Largo, just soloists and orchestral cellos, was particularly affecting, and the quarrelsome finale was theatrically effective, part of it the basis for a Mad Hatter's Tea Party of an encore, both Lloyd Webbers and Jian Wang all swopping roles.
Framing these concerti were two great Elgar works for string orchestra, both sounding so well in this wonderful acoustic. The early Serenade was affectionate without affectation, with warm bass-line underpinning, and the Introduction and Allegro of the composer's confident maturity was grippingly engaged. The solo quartet of OOTS' sectional principals seasoned the progress with reflectiveness, Lloyd Webber's brave refusal not to hammer out every beat of each bar, and the busyness of the tutti gave us a texture scudding like clouds, reminding us of the opening of the famous Ken Russell Elgar docu-film. Didn't he get everything right on that occasion?