Tasmin Little plays Vivaldi and Bach with the Orchestra of the Swan

Bradshaw Hall, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ****
Forget call-centres keeping you on hold while you listen to endless loops of a few seconds of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, continually interrupted by reminders of how important your call is. This poor benighted work is actually a masterpiece of musical pictorialism, and Wednesday's performance from Tasmin Little and the joyously fresh-sounding Orchestra of the Swan brought it up shiny and new.
This was a wonderful collaboration between Little and OOTS, led by David le Page (whom I've heard deliver an equally treasurable account as soloist with the orchestra); there was so much listening going on across the desks, such an empathy all round, and such imaginative colourings, including drunken groping for the right notes in Autumn, and a slapping Bartok pizzicato from the lower strings in the same concerto's finale.
David Ponsford provided piquant harpsichord support (hurrah! many years ago I berated this orchestra for presenting a baroque programme without this vital element), and Nick Stringfellow was an absolutely fizzing cello collaborator with Little's enthusiastic delivery.
We had begun with Vivaldi's Concerto Grosso in D minor, a run-of-the-mill work full of the composer's fingerprints which came to such triumphant fruition in the Seasons, but nevertheless delivered with fluency and elegance under le Page's inspiring direction.
He and Little were almost conjoined twins in the exhilarating Bach Double Concerto, their lines alert and interweaving, and matched by an equally attentive orchestra. No muesli-and-sandals banishment of vibrato here. Where necessary, its employment was totally appropriate.
Tasmin Little directed a devoted reading of Arvo Part's Fratres, its grave austerity drawing the most convincing listening and rapport between all the players, the expertise of the soloist, whether string-crossing or floating ethereal harmonics, totally at the service of this glum score.
And OOTS continued its policy of featuring a premiere from Royal Birmingham Conservatoire composition students. Victoria Benito's This is only a Work of Fiction (like her flip biography) makes huge demands on the 17 players -- stratospheric entries almost beyond the aural spectrum, pizzicato tremolandi where you either go for the pitch or for the effect, only rare excursions into rhythmic life. The performers might be better rewarded were this to be developed into a broader canvas.
Christopher Morley

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