Orchestra of the Swan Stratford ArtsHouse Friday 22 May
Fridayâ€™s concert given by Orchestra at the Swan at Stratford ArtsHouse was a real treat. When you buy a ticket for an Orchestra of the Swan concert you donâ€™t just get the concert; you also get a pre-concert talk and sometimes introductions to one or more of the pieces before they are played.
Fridayâ€™s pre-concert talk was by conductor and artistic director David Curtis and composer Dobrinka Tabakova whose Centuries of Meditations and the world premiere of High Line formed the first half of the progamme. Centuries of Meditations was written for the Three Choirs Festival in Herefored Cathedral in 2012, based on poems by the seventeenth century mystic poet Thomas Traherne and four of the 2009 stained glass windows by Tom Denny in the cathedral. Tabakovaâ€™s music is very accessible. She draws much of her inspiration from places, creating their mood and atmosphere in sound. The first movement is characterised by the perpetual motion of rich English sound and the second by repeated rhythms and musical phrases with which the listener becomes quickly familiar and can therefore trace both the creation and the progress of the mood. In the third movement the tonality moves in and out of choir and orchestra before the work culminates in the fourth movement, picking up the harmonic and textural threads of the three previous movements and adding the sound of the cathedralâ€™s D flat major bells which move from orchestra to choir and back again.
High Line was introduced to the audience by Curtis and Tabakova with the playing of short extracts so that they could then pick them up and follow their progress through the piece. It was inspired by a visit to the High Line in New York – a modern garden space created from a disused railway line. Musical motifs characterise the underground activity, the bustle of the streets, the higher garden space, the cultural activity represented by the flugelhorn and the observer walking through the garden represented by the violin. Each is presented separately but they then all interact as the violin/obsever becomes an integrated part of the city gardenscape, marking the transition from observer to participant. The brilliant playing and precise interaction between Hugh Daviesâ€™s trumpet and Tamsin Waley-Cohenâ€™s violin gave body and substance to the depiction of the cosmopolitan bustling city.
The second half on the concert was a performance of Faureâ€™s Requiem in its early 1887 version with small orchestra, most ably led by violist Adrian Turner. David Curtis always does something which surprises me on the rare occasions that he conducts choral music. There was a surprise at the very beginning with the unusually slow tempo of the first movement. The Requiem was a marked contrast to the dramatic romantic Requiems which preceded it and Curtis emphasised the lyricism of the voices with very restrained clear, pure vocal lines created in part by the downplaying of all the sibilants in the vocal score in what was a reflective, introverted restrained performance. The only blot on the interpretation was the momentary shrillness of the sopranos pushing too hard towards the end of the Hosanna. He gave the drama to the orchestral instruments instead. Soloists Simon Oberst and Naomi Berry were completely in accord with the vocal restraint of the Orchestra of the Swan Chamber Choir
There is a wonderful opportunity to hear more of Tabakovaâ€™s music in the Orchestra of the Swan concert on Friday 29 May, again at the ArtsHouse.