Stratford Virtuosi Orchestra by Christopher Morley

Just completing its 17th year, Rimma Sushanskaya's week-long Virtuoso Violin festival course continues to produce results which are nothing short of breathtaking. Activities always conclude with a string orchestra concert in Shakespeare's burial-place, and this year the scratch ensemble, comprising so much talent both promising and achieved, truly deserved the title of Stratford Virtuosi Orchestra.
It was a joy to welcome American guest Roger Mahadeen to conduct the first half of the evening. Coming with an impressive CV, he drew a remarkably mature, effulgent tone from these 20 musicians playing with a freshness and enthusiasm which perhaps can only ignite at one-off occasions such as this.
In Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (for once opening a concert instead of creeping in as an encore) the cellos' singing of the chorale melody was glorious. Mendelssohn's youthful B minor String Sinfonia really caught the imagination of these youngsters, its inner lines well-detailed, its dynamics alertly shaped.
And then came the world premiere of Mahadeen's MRI Rhapsody, its six minutes packed with wonderfully allusive string gestures much as the brain undergoing a scan delivers patterns and signals.. Its performance under the composer was flowingly rich in string resonance and interaction, pizzicato a major presence during its sure sense of dramatic progression.
Rimma Sushanskaya took over the podium for the  rest of the programme, directing a well-prepared account of Variants on Themes of Grieg by Robert Matthew-Walker, for several years now a welcome presence at this festival.
The piece begins with cadential rustlings before moving onto an intriguing web of quotes from the great Norwegian composer, all conveyed with a wonderful ear for string sonorities.
Some of the ideas here seemed underdeveloped; any extension of this attractive work would not mean an outstaying of welcome.
Finally came Grieg himself, with a buoyant account of the gorgeous Holberg Suite, athletically rendered. Its many solo episodes were well-taken, and memories of its joyousness should not have been jarred by the rather soupy encore which was Gershwin's Summertime.
Christopher Morley

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