ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN - Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon by Christopher Morley
I've rarely encountered such a mouthwatering piece of programme-planning as that offered by a decidedly on-form Orchestra of the Swan to a packed and enthusiastic audience in this atmospheric church.
Three of the greatest twentieth-century English works for string orchestra were preceded by the source-material which inspired them, and the result had us glued to our seats throughout a generous evening.
As a bonus, the scene was set with the OOTS Chamber Choir (not so chamber, after all, as there had to be 40 of them) grouped in a horseshoe at the west end of the nave singing Thomas Tallis' spectacular Spem in Alium. Suzzie Vango directed these eight groups of five singers in a pulsating to-ing and fro-ing of sound. Yes, there was an occasional loss of confidence from these 40 soloists, but the general effect was magnificent.
Corelli's F major Concerto could have done with the tinkling in-filling of a harpsichord continuo, but it served as an effective introduction to the masterpiece it inspired, Tippett's Fantasia Concertante on a theme of Corelli. This was magically delivered under the eloquent conducting of Stacey Watton (I do wish he hadn't warned us that this was difficult music, but "stick with it"; we all most emphatically did).
Textures were clearly delineated in this rich, alert reading, transcendent in its luminosity, and intense in its forward tread.
A solo quartet emerged from the strings to give a melting account of Frank Bridge's second Idyll, immediately followed by his star pupil, Benjamin Britten's Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge. Watton let us relish all its colours and guises, but over-long pauses between the movements led to a loss of cumulative impact in a work which surely grows towards its denouement.
The choir returned with Tallis' timeless setting of the psalm "Why fum'th in fight", the strings responding with Vaughan Williams' matchless Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis, the second orchestra magically remote in the furthest reaches of the chancel, the solo quartet truly evocative. Apologies to her three colleagues, but Daisy Spiers was spell-binding in her solos for viola.