Review: Cheltenham Chamber Orchestra, St Andrew's Church, Cheltenham
Jonathan Mann, founder and artistic director of Cardiff Sinfonietta, took over the reins of the CCO's string section to champion English music.
The evening opened with a Gerald Finzi's Prelude Op 25 which developed from a sombre opening on the lower strings to a brighter, almost ecstatic conclusion.
His Clarinet Concerto was a more substantial piece full of drama and passion which the lyrical clarinet endeavoured to subdue.The strings had most of the melody in the pastoral-like Adagio while the clarinet wove intricate arabesques around them. The finale was a jaunty affair with a stream of engaging melodies issuing forth and some impressive virtuoso playing from the soloist, Janet McKechnie.
Elgar's Serenade for Strings is one of his earliest and best-loved pieces and the strings blended together to good effect in the lilting opening movement. The Larghetto opened with what felt like a deep sigh and unfolded into a poignant melody so characteristic of the composer.
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2013 is Britten's centenary year so it was very appropriate to feature music by Frank Bridge, his teacher. Bridge's arrangement of Sally in our Alley abounded in harmonic complexities while numb sorrow oozed out of his Lament for the victims of the Lusitania.
Cotswold Hill Tune by a Cheltenham composer (not Holst, but Charles Wilfred Orr ) was a pleasant enough piece clearly inspired by folk music.
But neither the Orr nor Bridge pieces could compare with Parry's magnificent English Suite. Composed towards the end of his life its form may be Baroque, but the tone is unmistakeably English. Jonathan Mann and the musicians pulled out all the stops to reveal the Suite's musical inventiveness and diversity, from the sparkling caprice to the gentle pastoral and the perky frolic.
This was a fine performance which left the audience wanting more.