REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on York Guildhall Orchestra, York Barbican, Oct 14

David Greed: Former Orchestra of Opera North leader and York Guildhall Orchestra guest soloist for Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Picture: Opera North

THERE was a distinct start-of-term feeling about this fixture, in which Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Elgar’s First Symphony were preceded by a Dvorak concert overture.

It was refreshing to see several new, youthful faces in the orchestra, which was conducted by its musical director Simon Wright. But the advent of new blood, however welcome, inevitably carries an element of adjustment as compensation is made for retirees and incomers find their feet.

This may help to explain the tentative air about Dvorak’s In Nature’s Realm, where the strings initially lacked focus. But the composer’s orchestration increasingly gained in colour and the work finished confidently.

David Greed retired last summer after a mighty 44 years as leader of the Orchestra of Opera North, but thankfully has resisted reaching for the carpet slippers, continuing to freelance widely. As soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, he made an immediate impression with the sweetness of his upper range.

There was a rallentando into the second theme and an even bigger one before the cadenza, where he really let the music breathe rather than dazzle with mere virtuosity. The slow movement was an intimate affair at first, which made for a bigger contrast when the agitated central section arrived. When the opening returned, Greed was back to sharing quiet confidences with his audience, allowing us to wallow in Mendelssohn’s luscious melody.

David Greed: “Let the music breathe rather than dazzle with mere virtuosity”. Picture: Opera North

The bridge passage into the final rondo was beautifully elongated, keeping us tantalised with expectation. When the Allegro at last arrived it had all the flair and brilliance that the score implies, with Wright maintaining a strongly rhythmic backing to the soloist’s rapid figurations.

The coda was even more dazzling. But Greed was always at the service of the music rather than imposing his personality upon it showily, a refreshing and ultimately satisfying approach.

Elgar’s Symphony No 1 in A flat carries his favourite marking of nobilmente over its motto theme, but apart from the brass here, it was less than noble at first. But there was plenty of vivacity in the Allegro when it came and a nicely contrasting hush with the recall of its opening. What really impressed was the neatly controlled inner detail. Brass provided fire whenever needed.

The scherzo was exciting right from the start, with real precision from the strings and no let-up on the journey into the march-like second theme. Much tender phrasing infused the slow movement, particularly in the outer strings; there was an achingly elegiac feel to its closing pages.

Wright handled the transition into the last movement’s Allegro beautifully, where the main statement was superbly bold. The motto theme emerged more strongly than ever, symbolising the orchestra’s gradual resurgence throughout the evening. Things are shaping up nicely, not only for this season but well beyond.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on University of York Symphony Orchestra, 26/11/2022

Conductor John Stringer

University of York Symphony Orchestra (USO) Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, November 26

TICKETS were like gold dust for the USO’s latest foray under its permanent conductor John Stringer.

This is a popular group and its standards are high. The programme encompassed London as painted by Elgar and Paris as seen by Delius and Gershwin, with a couple of brief side-trips from Grainger in between.

Elgar’s concert overture Cockaigne (In London Town) is a series of vignettes of London life. He wanted to lift his spirits in 1901 after the disastrous initial response to The Dream Of Gerontius the previous year. As an establishment outsider, he also needed a way back into the musical mainstream. Cockaigne did the trick.

The violins were immediately bold in the vivacious opening melody but the change of mood to the more serious side of the Londoner was fluently done, even if things only quietened down fully when we glimpsed the lovers in the park. The military march rang out with majestic bravado underpinned by an especially zealous timpanist.

Although premiered the same year as Cockaigne, Delius’s Paris: The Song Of A Great City is quite a different animal, much more personal, indeed almost autobiographical. It started a little uncertainly here, before finding its way into a more shapely impressionism; the sinuous phrasing of the bass clarinet led the way.

The night air was warmed by the saltarello rhythm suggesting distant revels. But after the frenzy of bacchanalia leading to the march we reached an immense climax, which suited the orchestra’s mood perfectly. Thereafter the encompassing lull before the last great chord was serenely controlled.

Percy Grainger struck up a lasting friendship with Delius, so there was a personal link in his Dreamery, which – contrary to the Grainger image of relentless jollity – is a quiet daydream for strings alone. It dates from immediately after the First World War  and is clearly nostalgic for calmer times. The orchestra’s fine body of violins were right at home here and all the strings enjoyed the composer’s delicate tapestry.

Equally brief but no less effective was Grainger’s arrangement of Ravel’s La Vallée des Cloches, from his piano suite ‘Miroirs’. Ravel had originally intended to orchestrate it himself. The opening section for tuned percussion was hypnotic. When the strings finally joined them, the violas made succulent use of their time in the spotlight.

We stayed in France for An American In Paris, Gershwin’s jocular parody of the archetypal Yank abroad, bold, brazen, and more than a little loud. He got off to a jaunty start, courtesy of the woodwinds, and the syncopation that followed was nicely edgy.

The sleaze quotient lifted with blues trumpet and tuba. Tempo changes were smoothly negotiated, as this American began to look and listen rather than impose himself. The ending was triumphant. It had all been a tasty travelogue.

Review by Martin Dreyer