OOTS Ukraine concert review


Orchestra of the Swan at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford *****
This was a very special evening promoted by the Stratford-on-Avon Music Festival with willing co-operation from the Orchestra of the Swan and the Royal Shakespeare Company, all making themselves available for free, with all takings going to the Disasters Emergency Committee co-ordinating assistance to Ukrainian families
Emotion was already overflowing as we stood for the State Anthem of Ukraine, and the house was packed. Encouragingly there seemed to be many novices at attending an orchestral concert, and after the heartening enthusiasm they expressed throughout this unique evening I am sure we shall seem thronging OOTS audiences in future.
Three distinguished actors – Jim Broadbent, Mogali Masuku and Sam West -- donated their services, Broadbent delivering a particularly telling extract from the originally-suppressed play The Book of Thomas More, dealing with demonstrations against immigrants in London in 1617, West grippingly engaging in the Harfleur speech from Shakespeare's Henry V. The irony was that these three accomplished performers were not always audible in the acoustic of this theatre designed to carry the lines of the world's greatest playwright.
Michael Collins, also donating his services, conducted atmospheric accounts of Max Richter's On the Nature of Daylight, building a patient crescendo, and Barber's Adagio for Strings (such full-throated cellos, and only four of them).
But it was two Mozart performances which made this special evening even more special Collins was the conductor/soloist in the ineffable Clarinet Concerto, tempi unsentimental is this heartbreakingly autumnal work (completed a mere six weeks before the composer passed away), his tone even throughout the range, without exaggerating the chocolatey chalumeau lower reaches which many soloists do, and phrasing and adding ornamentation so appropriately on his responsive basset-clarinet. The concentrated listening and empathy between the orchestra themselves and soloists was a heartwarming object-lesson.
Then we ended with the finest Jupiter Symphony I have heard in many a year. This was a seat-of-the-pants job, on minimal rehearsal, (probably replicating the premiere) but, wow, weren't Collins and the players on their toes! The small-sized string section allowed all the textural balances with the winds and timpani to tell, not least the delicious collaborations between flute and bassoons, and the fugal coda of the finale was a marvel of clarity and utter amazement at what that impossibly-gifted little man could achieve.
Christopher Morley

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