Take a look at some of the reviews for our previous concerts!
10th Anniversary Concert review - March 2018
The Palatinate Orchestra celebrated their 10th anniversary with an interesting and eclectically programmed concert in the aptly grand setting of Durham Cathedral. This concert showcased some of the most successful works that DUPO have performed over the last decade to an enthusiastic full house.
DUPO’s Chamber orchestra opened with Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances and the third movement of Dvořák’s eighth symphony, conducted confidently by Harry Lai. The dynamic variation in the ensemble was good and generally the players were very responsive to Harry’s baton. A particular highlight was the first movement of Nielsen’s Flute Concerto, stunningly performed by soloist Giselle Lee. Clearly a master of the flute, Giselle demonstrated her amazing talent with lovely phrasing and tone, handling the tricker passages effortlessly. The orchestra were especially sensitive to their soloist with good balance between the two entities. Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis showcased the musicality of the string section of the orchestra, despite occasional intonation issues.
The second half of the concert saw the full symphony orchestra take to the stage with the first movement of Grieg’s infamous piano concert. Soloist Becky Taylor not only showcased her versatility as a musician (she also led the chamber orchestra in the first half) but amazed the audience with her powerful rendition. There could have perhaps been even more legato and direction in the phrasing and there was the occasional blip. Nevertheless, the scalic patterns and passages had brilliant attack. On the whole there was good communication between symphony conductor Hugo Jennings and Becky as soloist and orchestra remained in sync but occasionally in the tango synchronicity became an issue.
Rimsky-Korsakov ‘s Scheherezade I: ”The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship’ was next, with leader Millie Harding stepping up to tackle the solo that most violinists would shy away from. Millie displayed great clarity of tone, lovely warm vibrato and well-judged rubato in the opening bars of the solo. Delius’ The Walk to the Paradise Garden provided a delicate contrast to Scheherezade. The gradual climax throughout the piece was carefully controlled by Jennings, whilst all the woodwind solos, particuarly the oboe and clarinet, were played with sensitivity and cut through the texture clearly. This was a highly poignant moment of the evening. Following this was the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony, where the orchestra exhibited grace and delicacy. There was a good resonance in cellos and basses, particularly when they had the melody. Generally I felt that the dance-like quality of the piece could have been drawn out a little more with greater directionality in the phrasing.
DUPO concluded their concert with the electric Danzón No. 2 by Marquez. The sheer enjoyment of the individual players was tangible and it was performed with great energy. The tempo was well-chosen with the percussion section taking the starring role. Perhaps there could have been even more rhythmic drive and unification in the strings during the more syncopated passages, but this did not detract from a thoroughly enjoyable performance and dynamic conclusion to the evening.
Overall, this concert was a synthesis the many achievements of DUPO over the years. Sometimes the programme felt a little disjointed with movements of larger works being played in isolation, however each piece provided contrast and musical interest. There were a couple of administrative hiccups, with a few messy entrances and exits. Indeed the pianist amusingly had to run to the piano as the upbeat was given for the Danzon! Nevertheless, DUPO provided a thoroughly enjoyable evening, celebrating their brilliant development over the course of this academic year and standing orchestra in good stead for the next 10 years of music-making.
Joint Concert review - March 2018
Following their stunning French-themed Michaelmas concert, my expectations for DUPO’s evocatively titled ‘Mystical Travels’ concert were set high.
First, the Chamber Orchestra, led by Millie Harding, opened the concert with Mendelssohn’s overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The opening bars were suitably eerie and intriguing, achieved by sustained pitches in the strings. At first this felt a little tentative and the intonation took a short while to settle and balance, but nevertheless the orchestra created a sense of anticipation and direction. The piece soon developed into a faster section, which felt more grounded. This featured gorgeous melodic flourishes in the flutes, representative of birdsong played by Giselle Lee. I did feel that a few players were a little too bogged down in their music and could have taken their performance to the next level by opening up with some more ‘eyes up’ playing. This however did not affect the quality of sound produced by the musicians. During this opening piece, conductor Harry Lai exhibited a great level of maturity, keeping his calm composure and clear-cut style of conducting throughout.
Overall, the Chamber orchestra managed to colourfully paint the musical sea-scape inspired by the poem on which Mendelssohn based his overture – a charming opening to this concert.
Next, the audience were treated to Mozart’s Oboe Concerto with soloist David Hedley. As a solo instrument, oboe is a sonority that personally don’t I particularly warm to, but in the hands of Hedley I found that my mind was completely changed. From the outset, Hedley delivered a note-perfect performance, with a clear and crisp tone that was maintained throughout. In the first cadenza, Hedley’s impeccable phrasing and timing kept the audience right on the edge of their seats. The second movement provided complete contrast, with Hedley’s cantabile-like tone and impressive breath control and soft vibrato, I felt as though I was sitting in an opera house rather than a concert hall. This was concluded with another stunning virtuostic cadenza. The finale promised even more fireworks as Hedley skilfully navigated his way through the seemingly never-ending cascades of notes. He played at impressive speed, but without jeopardising his tone, articulation or musicality. Overall, this was a truly marvellous and polished performance form Hedley. Although Hedley took centre stage, the orchestra held their own, successfully providing a solid accompaniment that was perfectly balanced against the oboe. Lai is also to be congratulated for smoothly guiding both soloist and orchestra without so much as a hiccup.
For the second half, the full DUPO Symphony Orchestra took to the stage with Sibelius’ Karelia Suite, this time under the baton of Hugo Jennings. This opened dramatically, with perpetual semi-quaver motion of the strings creating tension before the full force of the orchestra took on the patriotic theme. In juxtaposition, the Ballade was chorale-like in nature, with gentle clarinet and bassoon entries. The violins, led by Becky Taylor, delivered a rich and lush melody by playing high up on their lower strings, which was a particulary great moment. Finally, the Alla Marcia made for another change in tone, spritely performance. Perhaps the violins could have aimed for greater rhythmic clarity in their vast dotted rhythm passages to enhance the excitement of this last movement. However when the full orchestral force was unleashed, the exciting climax of the piece was achieved with great musicality.
Next on their mystic tour, DUPO arrived in Russia with the Dance of the Persian Slaves from Mussorgsky’s opera Khovanschina. This was a great choice and gave the programme an intriguing oriental twist. Jennings did a remarkable job at drawing out the dark Russian soul exemplified in Mussorgsky’s writing. This was particularly evident in the lushness of the strings, led by Becky Taylor and the hypnotic undulation of the solo clarinet moments, played by Josh Ward. Despite a few sticky tempo changes, this piece really was a passage into the mysterious character of Russian ‘otherness’.
To conclude the programme, the symphony orchestra tackled Dvorak’s Noon Witch: a symphonic poem with dark and twisted mythological origins. The orchestra characterised each character, mood and setting beautifully, making for a dramatic performance. A special mention must go to bass clarinettist James Petley and bassoonist Thomas Feild, who were tasked with representing the Noon Witch herself. This duet was majestically ominous and really drove the musical story forward. The piece gradually unfolded to its climax, where the trumpets and trombones, led by Harvey Stevens and Rob Little, were forcefully employed to bring this epic poem to its conclusion. The sheer enjoyment of the orchestra during this final piece was palpable and this was without doubt the highlight of the concert.
Congratulations to DUPO for another stunning concert, particularly to President Franklin Taylor-Moore and his executive committee for pulling this event together, and to conductors Lai and Jennings. DUPO seem to be travelling on an upwards trajectory this year, which promises even greater concerts to come.
DUPO Chamber Review - December 2017
As we step into the month of December, the music scene of Durham seems to have suddenly exploded into a beautifully hectic frenzy with concerts being put on nearly every single day, and posters being plastered all over every corner of Town. If you have so much as left your house, you will probably have seen the dynamic and eye-catching poster (designed by their Webmaster Charlie Criswell) of Durham University Palatinate Orchestra’s concert, this time featuring their Chamber Orchestra.
In the cosy setting of St Margaret’s Church, a decent-sized audience turned up to the event for an evening of Beethoven, as well as some Bruckner and Glinka. Harry Lai, on his debut as an orchestral conductor, assertively launches the iconic F minor chord of Beethoven’s fiery Egmont Overture to kick off the concert. Albeit slightly lacking in bass strength at the start, the orchestra achieves a lovely balance with distinctive dynamic contrast. David Hedley treated his first solo entry with great care and musicality on the oboe; this was followed slightly hesitantly by the clarinet, and then comfortably by the bassoons who maintained a lovely tone. The strings section seemed to settle more and more into the piece as it progressed, and there was some very satisfying juxtaposition between confident exclamations from the horns and sensitive responses from the violins. Lai, in preparation of the speedy Allegro con brio section, brought the orchestra to a complete halt of slightly awkward length when he gave the players two whole bars in the new tempo; this interrupted the flow of the piece and was, in my opinion, unnecessary for an orchestra of such calibre.
Nonetheless, the final section of the Overture was very exciting to hear and was performed with much simmering energy, which was aided by the emphatic timpani playing by Lizzy Hardy, which remained remarkable throughout the concert and provided the orchestra with much punch.
The second item of the concert was the lesser-known Three Pieces for Orchestra by Anton Bruckner. The opening horn solo of the first piece, Moderato, was carefully and musically executed by Joe Bleasdale despite a couple of minor slips. The sinuous arpeggio passages in the clarinets could perhaps have afforded to be brought out a bit more, but were nonetheless treated with great attention and accuracy. The second miniature, Andante, began with a duet between Hedley on the oboe and Emily Wallace on the bassoon, which floated beautifully above a mellow bed of strings. Commendation must be given to double bassist Peter Hicks, who held his own as a one-man section whilst being rather brutally separated from the cellos and placed behind the first violins due to spatial restrictions of the venue. The last piece, Andante con moto, saw the occasional lack of tidiness in dotted and double-dotted rhythms in the first violins. That said, the orchestra on the whole displayed impressive musicianship and communication. The oboes could further explore the elasticity and breadth in their tone, as well as use vibrato more generously for expression, but the section’s overall performance tonight was of a very fine standard. The small cello section, albeit occasionally suffering from intonation problems, provided secure foundation for the joyful exuberance in the music, brought out by the conductor’s many big and energetic gestures.
Glinka’s whimsical Valse-Fantasie began with much confidence and flair. The string section’s meticulous attention to articulation, which contributed massively towards the great character of this rendition, compensated for the slightly blurry scales at the start. The introduction of the theme by the first violins was echoed wonderfully by the flute and the clarinet, who presented some lovely phrasing but momentarily fell short in intonation. The clarinets and double bass were briefly out of sync in an unforgivingly exposed passage, but this was remedied swiftly while the orchestra displayed consistent style, and finished the first half of the concert in a very charming vein.
The second half of the concert presented Beethoven’s often overlooked 2nd Symphony, which began in a clear and announced manner; the orchestra seemed completely in their element with this work, exuding confidence as most of the movement was tightly held together. Some exposed ornamented passages in the violins could have used some tidying up, but their playing proved to be secure overall. The triumphant atmosphere of the music was propelled by the brilliant trumpet section, whose crystal-clear high notes cut through the texture of the orchestra like a dream.
The second movement opened with a lush wave of strings that was performed with suitable sensitivity, although the tidiness of the turn patterns could, again, be improved; the bow usage of the violin sections could also be more consistent across all desks. Despite a few unfortunate mishaps in some of the horns’ broken chords in the higher register, the accuracy across the ensemble is commendable. The flute section in particular played with beautiful delicacy, and the ever-attentive principal Jeremy Chan’s playing showed much finesse and sophistication throughout the concert. Lai’s conducting, even though very horizontal and lacked definition at times, brought out great emotional depth from the orchestra.
The third movement then started with a refreshing burst of energy that was combined with good technical accuracy throughout. There was certainly room for more contrast in colour, but there was a delightful flow to the music that captivated everyone in the room. The dramatic final movement took a short while to settle down, as the first violins struggled to execute the tricky string crossings cleanly in some very exposed phrases; however, the gush of warmth instilled by the lovely and pronounced cello melody definitely made up for that. The sparkling energy of the music was prevalent in the performance, and the orchestra’s musicianship once again shone through, with the wind section acting as an ever-reliable backbone to all that is happening. The build-up towards the end was nothing less than thrilling, and the concert came to a close with some resoundingly jubilant final chords that led to a long and well-deserved round of applause.
DUPO Chamber Orchestra can certainly be very proud of what they have achieved tonight, as their demanding selection of music was tackled with much care and grace. Congratulations are in order to Harry Lai for having done his first ever concert as an orchestral conductor; it was a very good effort indeed, and he will undoubtedly benefit from all the upcoming opportunities he has to work with such a promising orchestra.
DUPO Symphony Review - December 2017
The Palatinate Orchestra promised a French odyssey as this year’s symphonic debut, and from the familiarity of Elvet Methodist Church the audience were invited on a journey of discovery into new and unfamiliar regions French orchestral music.
The program boasted some of the greats of French romanticism, but the pieces themselves were generally the lesser known from amongst their output. As such, the well balanced selection offered something new for the orchestral know-it-all and the novices alike.
Once the first quiet, bare passage of the marche was out of the way the players seemed to relax into it and things became more stable. Scénes Pittoresques was an ideal way to introduce the 2017-18 crop of talented musicians. It demonstrated the strength of the sections that have been put together, with particularly clean and lovely viola and horn lines in movement three.
The waltz-like theme rose from the ‘cello section was also particularly pleasing and together. You could see that the choice of the ‘Mahler’ layout, with the two violin groups placed antiphonally on either side of the conductor, was a sensible one and this allowed the orchestration to really come to life. This arrangement is however less forgiving and more exposing to the string players.
Poulenc’s Les Biches transports you to a 1920s house party, where the glasses are full and the guests are feeling flirty. The rondeau seemed like a good deal of fun to play, though it felt a little reserved, perhaps in an effort to conserve energy for the finale. The adagietto featured one notably delicious swell, demonstrating the orchestra’s ability to function as one single organism, which I’m sure will develop in time. The characterful, drunken bassoon solo by Thomas Field was also charming.
The centerpiece of the evening was always going to be Ravel’s Ma Mere L’Oye. It is a piece full of a sense of adventure, balanced with childlike frivolity and innocence. The nuanced orchestration was indeed a bold challenge to take on, but there were moments in which the nuances were accomplished wonderfully. Laura Cooper gave us an excellent viola solo, and sparks were flying between the well-blended, sensitive horn playing and very accomplished flute section. I will say that it was a shame not to be able to see the flutes nor the oboes, particularly when they brought so much to the piece. Jane Harding’s cor anglais solo was an absolute pleasure. It was lovely to hear the harps after they were slightly drowned out in Les Biches. Above the finally stilled and splendidly balanced strings, Mathilde Rouhi delivered a rich harp solo, demonstrating the different kinds of timbres the harp is capable of. The sound panorama which followed was very well done.
The solos from the orchestra leader, Becky Taylor, were well delivered. The leader can, however, command more attention and really perform her solos. She has earned the limelight with her hard work in that role, and should really enjoy those moments of reward.
For me the standout section in this piece, and indeed of the evening, were the flutes led by Giselle Lee. The flutters and interjections so classic of Ravel’s style were expertly executed. Both the solo melodic lines and the blended sections showed the hard work and professionalism of the group and of each flautist.
The ending was simply brilliant. In the Chabrier the orchestra seemed to get into it and enjoy themselves in a way that was maybe missing in Les Biches, which made for a lustrous performance. It may not have been clean all the time, but at their highest energy, this orchestra has an infectious enthusiasm which is most enjoyable. Ben Bucknall should be credited for his addition to the drama and energy of the closing number.
Some sections of the program were clearly enjoyable and had perhaps been worked on more than others in rehearsals. Moments such as these showed that the orchestra will be capable of if they build on the initial progress made this term. A couple of points to note would be that performers must not grimace upon finishing a section they might not be completely pleased with, and in movements when performers are not playing they must remain aware that they are still visible to the audience.
Hugo Jennings should be greatly admired for how he conducted the orchestra on this evening. His clean and un-distracting style shows refined maturity. His performance should be praised independently of the fact that he was not feeling at all well, but his ability to keep going was extremely admirable and deserves to be noted. The cheer he received from the orchestra as he left the podium was actually quite moving.
This society has put something quite special together this year, and I look forward to seeing what they accomplish building on their work this term.