Great Hall, Malvern College ****

Now over 30 years in existence, the perennially enterprising Autumn in Malvern Festival welcomed the engaging European Union Chamber Orchestra for its concluding concert, something which has developed into an endearing tradition, sponsored by the Elmley Foundation and the Prokofiev family.

Conductorless, they have the benefit of a nifty concertmaster, deft in securing clean, clear entries and arresting in his communication of dynamics. The sound from these 13 strings, however, was disembodied and thin for the opening of Rudolf Barshai’s orchestration of Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives for piano, though there was plenty of measured wit where appropriate.

Award-winning pianist Yuzhang Li was soloist in Mozart’s Concerto no.12 in A , K414, the EUCO collaborating with warmly-turned phrasing and an excellent balance with the piano. Yuzhang displayed a fluent, instinctive response to the composer, unafraid to highlight the left hand where necessary, but her articulation could have been crisper, and over-zealous pedalling clouded textures in this resonant acoustic.

Walton’s two string pieces from his score for the Olivier film of Henry V actually needed a conductor to reveal their poignant essence, but what followed was a marvel of resourcefulness.

This modest handful of players, now employing much vibrato, collaborated with the generous acoustic to deliver a richly-toned Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings, mutual concentration in abundance as textural elements constantly shifted in this gorgeous score.  The famous Valse genuinely evoked a St Petersburg ballroom, and in the glorious Elegie the two violas punched above their weight to deliver their own haunting contributions. Two cellos and a single bass similarly made up for their lack of numbers.

It is always a joy to visit Autumn in Malvern, friendly and welcoming when so many major festivals in our region often give out exactly the opposite impression.

Christopher Morley

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