Orchestra of the Swan review


Stratford Play House *****
"The Living Orchestra -- New Beginnings" was the totally appropriate title for the Orchestra of the Swan's first concert of its new season, resurrecting itself after over half a year of lockdown.
Of course the set-up was different: a small group of players socially-distanced, a one-way system into the auditorium for a restricted audience (many of whom, by the way, were not wearing the stipulated face-masks), a bar operating from air-hostess trollies, and a repeat performance of this one-hour programme after the venue had undergone a 90-minute deep clean.
The enterprise was greeted with the enthusiasm it undoubtedly deserved, and the joy of the players at performing together again at last was palpable. Also evident was a remarkable clarity of tone and line from the ensemble (13 players the entire complement), and the confidence with which each member responded to the added exposure.
Michael Collins was the genial conductor, his beat both clear and affectionate; he was obviously delighted to be back in action, too.
Max Richter's On the Nature of Daylight, elegiac in the manner of the Samuel Barber Adagio for Strings, was an unfolding of rapt beauty building from the lower strings, minimalism in slow motion.
A fascinating inclusion came with the Adagio ma appassionato from the Afro-American Suite by Undine Smith Moore, grand-daughter of slaves in America, and therefore totally in tune with the current Black Lives Matter movement. This trio for flute, cello and piano, was given with touching commitment but without leaving much of an impact.
There was plenty of impact in David Gordon's Rameau Suite, four movements derived from operas by the great French baroque composer. The piece seems unsure of its identity: sometimes it is a touching rearrangement of Rameau's music, at other times it takes off from the originals in a highly jazzy way, David Gordon at the piano moving into prominence and always keeping us on our toes.
We concluded with Aaron Copland's masterpiece, Appalachian Spring, both dreamy and incisive, Diane Clark's flute rhapsodic, strings building up a huge head of steam in a genuine feel for hoe-down. Never has the climactic "Simple Gifts" brought a sense of release so beatific.
Applause from us all was full of gratitude for OOTS' amazing achievement, and a huge encouragement for the future in whatever direction it takes.
Christopher Morley

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