Malvern College ****


Having turned our backs on the EU, we scarcely deserve the opportunity of relishing the talents of the excellent European Union Chamber Orchestra.

Yet thanks to Peter Smith’s remarkable Autumn in Malvern Festival, gracing this beautiful area for over 30 years, and always so meticulously organised in terms of presentation and detail, we were able to welcome them on Sunday on their seventh visit here. Doubtless the personnel have changed over the years; what remains a constant is the ensemble’s exuberance in performance, projected so compellingly by all these players) standing freely at their music-stands, cellos of course excepted.

This largely English programme began with Britten’s Simple Symphony, crisply delivered in this resonant acoustic, with a clarity of texture, attention to dynamics, and a unanimity of ebb and flow under the discreet direction of principal violinist Darragh Morgan.

Morgan was joined by oboist Mark Baigent for Bach’s wonderful Concerto for Violin and Oboe, the two complementing each other perfectly in this interchange of the composer’s eloquent lines. The orchestra’s rocking pizzicato accompaniment to the middle movement was a particular joy, hushed by a brief bowed interlude. Such were the merits of the entire performance that we missed what would have been the subdued tinklings of a harpsichord continuo not a jot.

Holst’s St Paul’s Suite was an absolute joy, given with such a swing and open-air exhilaration. There were some eloquent dialogues between solo violin and solo viola, and indeed the pair of violas contributed to a wonderfully immanent bass line together with the two cellos and solo double-bass in this 13-strong complement.

Elgar’s rather weak Elegy was respectfully rendered, with some amazing dynamic control from this conductorless ensemble, and we concluded with Vaughan Williams’ staid, workmanlike Concerto Grosso, efficiently performed, but providing a downbeat ending to this otherwise memorable afternoon. The Holst, with its earworming Dargason finale bringing forth a burgeoning Greensleeves, would have made a far more effective finale.

Christopher Morley

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