University of York Symphony Orchestra/Stringer, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, November 27
THE statistics were impressive. In their first public appearance for 20 months, the 85 members of the University of York Symphony Orchestra came from 20 different departments and nine nations – a truly cross-cultural ensemble.
The programme was equally eclectic. An Elgar second half was preceded by three 20th century pieces, including a tuba concerto.
George Walker’s Lyric for Strings – which, like Barber’s better-known Adagio, was originally
part of a string quartet – is a gentle elegy that does not reach quite as powerful a climax as Barber achieved. But the orchestra, under its regular conductor John Stringer, treated it tenderly enough, if with a certain caution.
In similar mood was Elgar’s heartfelt Elegy, also for strings alone, but given here with
reverence and a greater measure of conviction.
Thomas Adès quoted Julian of Norwich for the title of his ‘… But All Shall Be Well’ (taken up
much later by T S Eliot among others). Interjections by percussion threaten to disrupt the swirling strings until quite near the end, when the title motto begins to hold good. For all its complications, the piece relies on a simple five-note motif that gives it coherence. The orchestra sounded as if it understood exactly what was going on.
The agile soloist in Edward Gregson’s Tuba Concerto was Christopher Pearce, whose contrasts in colour were greatly helped by the sensitivity of the orchestral accompaniment. He cleanly pointed the difference between the two opening themes before bringing a smooth legato to the slow movement’s songlike melody. Despite the exciting, jazzy textures in the finale, he kept his eye on the ball and his phrasing crisp.
Elgar’s Polonia is one of those works that would fit neatly into the last night of the Proms, bursting with nationalistic fervour and produced as a fundraiser for Polish refugees during the First World War.
Its opening was on the ragged side here, but the cellos settled nicely into its big tune and the rest of the orchestra followed suit. Vigorous percussion accented its martial flavour and there was hardly any holding the brass when the theme returned in an Elgarian nobilmente.
The orchestra clearly relished its chance to be back in live action. A full house enjoyed it too.
Review by Martin Dreyer