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Orchestra of the Swan

Orchestra of the Swan

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 (ideally you should 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 Birmingham Town Hall on Wednesday 24 May 2017.

A change, they say, is as good as a rest. It’s rare that we get to hear the Orchestra of the Swan conducted by anyone other than David Curtis. But it’s no reflection upon Curtis’s tireless work to say that under the American guest conductor Franz Anton Krager, they sounded like a band renewed. Krager served as OOTS’s principal guest conductor back in the noughties, but this was his Town Hall debut, and on the strength of this performance it’d be good to have him back rather sooner next time.

True, Schubert’s Fifth Symphony and the teenage Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto aren’t the stuff of which ovations are made. Still less, the symphony formerly known as Mozart’s 37th – actually a work by Michael Haydn to which Mozart, for reasons known only to himself, added a short introduction. Under Krager, OOTS played it in big, buoyant phrases, propelled by buccaneering horns and a real feeling for this underrated music’s ebullient personality.

That verve and sense of colour were even more noticeable in the Schubert, with some of the most stylish playing I’ve heard from OOTS. Krager brought out the shadows in this usually sunny symphony, letting woodwind lines sing through the texture, and weighting the stormier string passages towards the basses to generate a powerful momentum. It all went with a terrific swing, as did Jennifer Pike’s larger-than-life account of the concerto – delivered by Pike with a glinting tone and a series of brilliant, startlingly Romantic cadenzas. Krager and the OOTS were more than ready to meet her on the same terms. Played by a symphony orchestra, these three pieces can seem like miniatures. Here, they became whole worlds.