Orchestra of the Swan review 5.12.18


Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ****

Orchestra of the Swan's new residency at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire continues to bring joys, bubbling over in Wednesday's matinee conducted by Michael Collins.
Having given a charming and fascinating public conversation, he then launched into a stimulating programme of Stravinsky and Mozart, Stravinsky looking backwards, Mozart bursting the boundaries (Symphony no.40) and looking into a world beyond the stars (the Clarinet Concerto).
Collins directed the concerto from his basset-clarinet, a gorgeously liquid instrument with a shudderingly persuasive chalumeau register (often in conspiracy with the lower strings), and added piquant flourishes of ornamentation to decorate these well-trodden melodic lines. His tone was even, nutty and mellow, important notes picked out from surrounding figuration in this captivatingly fluent performance. Led by David le Page, OOTS listened both to the soloist and each other to recreate the intimacy and spontaneity of chamber music.
Naturally Collins selected the edition of the symphony which includes clarinets, and they made a poignant contribution to the colours of this amazing score, as did, among others, visionary horns and lingeringly sad bassoons.. Tempi were swift, unsentimental, and totally convincing, whirling us along in this unique maelstrom of tragic outpouring.
The two neo-classical Stravinsky concertos (that in D for strings, and the juicily-textured E-flat Dumbarton Oaks) were given with a constant awareness of underlying pulse, whatever the shifts in bar-lines, though balances in Dumbarton Oaks too often favoured the fruity wind instruments over the busy strings.
We also heard the world premiere of Earthly Things by Taiwanese RBC composition student Hannah Liu, an attractive piece proudly indebted to Copland's similarly fundamental Appalachian Spring, and generously rendered here by this charming orchestra.
Christopher Morley

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