Orchestra of the Swan and Peter Donohoe review


Orchestra of the Swan at the Stratford Play House ****
Renowned for his prowess in the biggies of the piano repertoire, Peter Donohoe is currently spending a lot of time with Mozart, far less spectacular but just as technically demanding, not least because of the unforgiving exposure with which his writing spotlights the soloist's musicality.
And there was plenty of that in a wonderful account of the C major Concerto, no.25 K503 which Donohoe shared with an alert and enthusiastic Orchestra of the Swan under the elegant baton of Jason Lai.
After a portentous opening tutti (the Prague Symphony would be the very next Kochel number) with a full, rich sound from numerically a small-scale orchestra, Donohoe's entry was magisterial, shapely in his phrasing, gorgeously rippling in his own special subject, and endearingly thumping out bass lines to reinforce those of the orchestra.
This was music-making which sounded endearingly spontaneous (probably like the work's skin-of-the-pants premiere -- Mozart was always lastminute,com), accommodating all the ornamental filigree but also refreshingly direct.
The Mozart was flanked by two Vaughan Williams works. The Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (premiered at Gloucester in 1910, not, despite what the introduction in the programme-book told us, in 1906), an OOTS staple, was delivered with a suitable sense of awe, and somehow the two string orchestras sounded genuinely separate, although physically on the Play House stage they were not.
And the strings sounded gorgeously lush in RVW's Fifth Symphony, cushioning eloquent woodwind contributions led by Diane Clarke's heartsearching flute. Brass overbalanced everyone else in this cramped acoustic, but Lai sculpted a seamless, dedicated account of what remains for me a prolonged appraisal of decaying cowpats (first described by Philip Heseltine/Peter Warlock).
Christopher Morley

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