Friday, 8 June 2018

Manchester University String And Chamber Orchestras Concert - The Martin Harris Centre, Manchester.

This concert formed part of the Manchester University Music Society’s 2018 Estival week, a week of concerts from the various configurations of musicians and singers within the wider society to mark the end of the academic year. The evening was made up of a set by the Manchester University String Orchestra followed by a longer piece performed the Chamber Orchestra.

The String Orchestra kicked things off with Mozart’s Divertimento in D major which, incredibly, was composed when he was just 16 years old! The Divertimento is, like much of Mozart’s string compositions, bright and breezy, indeed there was an audible relation between this piece and his more famous Eine Kleine Nacht Music. The opening featured the violins producing some lovely, light tones while the violas and cellos worked at producing the counterpointing bass notes. Throughout the airy opening movement, there were some nicely executed flourishes on the violins. The second movement continued the fine playing from the orchestra and allowed the violins and violas to work together in unison; the appearance of their bows rising and falling across the strings as one proved to be quite eye-catching. The final section of the work saw the violas deftly provide a lightness of touch on their strings as the ensemble brought the work to its charming conclusion.

The second work presented by the String Orchestra was Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C major and it certainly presented a tonal contrast to the airy feel of the Mozart composition. While Tchaikovsky was attempting to pay homage to the works of Mozart with this piece, it couldn’t quite shake off the undercurrent of unease which lurks within several of his compositions and the mournful violins which commenced this piece stood in stark relief to the joyous sounds of the Mozart piece. This isn’t to say that the work wasn’t without its lighter moments, indeed the violins would go on to provide sweeping high notes over the darker lower tones of the cellos. Some of the violin players may have allowed their high notes to go just a tad too high for a moment but this was a rare misstep in an otherwise interesting performance. Of particular enjoyment was the way traditional Russian folk music rhythms were blended into a dance tune towards the climax of the piece which allowed for a real feeling of having been on a musical journey from the slow, muted opening, to the exuberant ending.

After an interval, the Chamber Orchestra assembled with a piano taking pride of place centre stage. The orchestra were presenting Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and the performance featured CJ Carrington as piano soloist for what was a turbulent, demanding work (as is often expected of the works of Beethoven). The first movement of the work opened with just the orchestra, with the French horns blasting away over the string section to create a startling, rousing opening to the performance. After the string and horn section was conducted to the end of their contribution to the movement, Carrington commenced his first solo spot by echoing the string’s motif which then led the rest of the orchestra back into the piece. It was a highly effective segue and saw the dynamic between the instruments in the orchestra change: now they were responding to the concentrated key strokes of Carrington. As the piece progressed with its movements, the large, domineering string bass provided a great deal of kick to the piece (and was very well played), and the timpani created waves of percussion while the horns and strings duetted in and out and around the skilful playing of Carrington at the piano. He certainly gave the performance his all, providing an astonishing display of dexterity at the keyboard, racing up and down the keys, coming to dramatic stops before resuming. As good as the orchestra behind him were, there was no doubt that this performance belonged to Carrington – this was his chance to shine and he took that opportunity and ran with it. His work paid off; he received a standing ovation at the end of the performance and returned to provide a brief, solo encore.

If the remaining performances of the Estival week are as strong as that of the Chamber Orchestra and the String Orchestra then audiences are certainly in for a treat. While some in the ensembles may be making their final performances this week, there is no doubt that the orchestras and groups within the Manchester University Music Society will have eager and equally talented musicians joining their ranks over the next few months. 

Reviewer - Andrew Marsden
on - 6/6/18

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