European Union Chamber Orchestra review


Malvern College ****
Difficult to banish thoughts of the current turmoil in this country's relationship with the European Union, but it was in fact a delight to concentrate upon the musical values of this concert from the 14-strong EUCO, one of the highlights of this year's splendid Autumn in Malvern Festival, a festival which has graced Elgarshire's calendar for nearly a third of a century.
Cellists apart, all played standing, facilitating the heartwarming eye-contact and smiling communication between these young performers, led by the acrobatic, soaring and dipping violin of concertmaster Hans-Peter Hofmann. The works we heard actually benefit from the absence of a conductor's rigidity; here was all flexibility, spontaneity and empathy.
Grieg's wonderfully nostalgic Holberg Suite was springy, but somewhat indistinct in articulation, due to the Great Hall's warm but fuzzy acoustic. Nevertheless, it was good to hear the important interaction between violas and cellos in the Sarabande, and the fizzing virtuosity of solo violin and viola in the Rigaudon.
Toby White was soloist in Haydn's C major Cello Concerto, this acoustic nicely complementing his mature tone and imparting a wonderful sheen when first and second violins were in unison. There was a purposeful, Vivaldian sense of forward tread to this reading, properly in context with the period of its composition, and the spirited finale was breathtaking.
Then came cloistered gentleness with Gerald Finzi's melancholy Prelude in F minor, the acoustic perfect for this gradual unfolding of restrained emotion.
Toby White had by now joined the orchestral cellos, and it was perhaps his presence which added an extra bloom in Dvorak's gorgeous Serenade for strings. This was an affectionate, well-structured reading, lilting but also muscularly rhythmic when appropriate, and, again, a superb example of the interplay and balance between these musicians.
A return to the Praeludium from the Holberg Suite, underpinned by White's extra cello, made a satisfying encore, as through the windows the sun began to set through the trees tinged with autumn.
Christopher Morley

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