REVIEW: Orchestra of the Swan

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Stratford ArtsHouse

ORCHESTRA of the Swan were in top form for their last concert in their 2015-1016 Shakespeare season. Conductor David Curtis brought unusual colour and some subtlety to Otto Nicolai’s rather workaday Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor, particularly in the opening and in the transition into the Falstaff section.

The Shakespeare/Falstaff theme was continued later with Falstaff music from both Elgar and Walton, all four pieces delicately delivered by Curtis’s impeccable timing, tempo control and customary restraint.

The festivity closed in appropriate Proms style with Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Nos 4 and 1 and Sir Henry Wood’s delightful Fantasia on British Sea Songs.

But the highlight was a stunning performance of Elgar’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra played by the brilliant young cellist Laura van der Heijden. Her Concerto was a long way from the melancholy and somewhat lugubrious performances often heard. The programme notes pointed out that ‘Many listeners have heard nothing but sorrow in this work: nostalgia for a war-shattered world long gone, perhaps a premonition of Alice’s death, a regret for forgotten dreams’. This was miles away from what we were presented with on Saturday.

What we heard was a fine work which explored the search for identity with the protagonist (the cello) on a quest for understanding of and in the world (represented by the orchestra), outlining the struggles, accommodations and adjustments which have to be made in order to triumph on the journey. It was beautifully shaped and modulated. A majestic solidity was presented in the opening movement, the context for the cello’s quest for identity. Van der Heijden’s brilliance is that what she does sound quite simple, the hallmark of a fine artist. It was in the second movement when the cello began to anticipate rather than follow the orchestra’s ideas and in the final one where the cello was confident and separate from the world.

Van der Heijden’s playing sounded simple. It was always reflective rather than self-indulgent. There was never passion for passion’s sake. In the end the piece was not sad but triumphant and forward-looking. Magnificent.

Reviewed by Peter Buckroyd

Last Night of the Shakespeare Proms

Stratford ArtsHouse

Saturday 30th July