The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (you should really go out and buy the paper!) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Stratford Arts House on 22nd May 2015.
Immediately before the world premiere of her new work High Line, Dobrinka Tabakova thanked conductor Davd Curtis and the Orchestra of the Swan for having the courage to programme an entire half-concert of contemporary music. And whether the large crowd was there principally to hear Tabakova’s music or Fauré’s Requiem, the way Curtis and Tabakova introduced High Line – a friendly discussion, illustrated with brief examples from the orchestra – was a masterclass in getting a potentially reluctant audience on side.
High Line itself – a musical picture of the famous New York park, with solo violin (Tamsin Waley-Cohen, making a sumptuous sound) and flugelhorn (Hugh Davies, relaxed and effortlessly jazzy) – drew a warm response. Distantly evoking Copland’s Quiet City, it’s an attractive score, perhaps slightly longer than its material could sustain, but nonetheless a strong contender for pole position in the not-exactly-crowded field of concertos for violin and flugelhorn.
Earlier we’d heard Tabakova’s Centuries of Meditations, a choral setting of Thomas Traherne originally composed for the 2012 Hereford Three Choirs Festival. Like John Adams in Harmonium, Tabakova generates a slowly-building sense of rapture over shimmering minimalist figuration. The excellent Orchestra of the Swan Chamber Choir sang with glowing fervour.
They brought the same conviction and beauty of sound to Fauré’s Requiem, in its original, viola-led scoring for chamber orchestra. Simon Oberst and Naomi Berry took the solos from within the choir: Berry’s dark-hued soprano and expressive vibrato made the Pie Jesu a more emotionally-charged experience than we’re used to. Slightly more nuanced phrasing from the orchestra might have lifted this performance from highly enjoyable to truly memorable.