The evening opened with distinctly un-stringy special guests Imperial Brass. The dectet's first pieces, Poulenc's March to the Scaffold and Salve Regina, were both performed with a lot of character, particularly the trombones. Rhythmically tight and well in tune for the most part, the whole ensemble made the music exciting, and were obviously enjoying themselves immensely in the forte sections towards the end.
The second piece consisted of three movements from Henry Purcell?s Abdelazar. The first movement opened with some confident high trumpet performed excellently by Felicity Coad, which contrasted with the more mellow, lyrical lower brass in the second movement. The first-rate set finished with an active third movement, proving (and I realise that I may get lynched at this point - see last winter?s ICSO review) that brass are capable of a decent dynamic range, and once more allowing the dectet to show off their exceptional abilities.
After a little stage rearrangement, the hosts of the concert, Imperial College String Ensemble, took the stage. Their first offering was the "Lady Radnor's" Suite in F by Parry. Although the orchestra, and particularly the first violins, seemed to take a little while to settle down into the first movement, the first movements were solid and enjoyable. There was some beautiful lyrical playing in the third and fifth movements, and some excellent whole-orchestra octaves in the fourth. The piece finished with a spirited Gigue that was played with great enthusiasm by all members of the group.
The piece that followed, Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, was wonderful. I will admit that I am slightly biased, with this being one of my favourite pieces by my favourite composer, but even making allowances for this, the performance was excellent. Although again it took a minute or so for the orchestra to settle, they soon relaxed. The solo quartet all played beautifully and were confident whilst retaining sensitivity. The whole orchestra dealt with the contrasts between the groups well and handled the swelling lines skilfully.
After the interval the orchestra were joined by Nelson Ferreira, performing the Cello Concerto in G by Boccherini. The soloist performed well, with some very skilled double stopping and lovely singing in the cello?s upper register. Although marred a little by occasional tuning differences between the orchestra and soloist, on the whole the orchestra accompanied sympathetically, especially the delicate violins in the second movement. Once again the orchestra showed their spirit in the final movement, and although this enthusiasm occasionally overshadowed the soloist, the piece was brought to a solid conclusion and featured a brilliant cadenza from Mr. Ferreira.
The final piece was Elgar's Introduction and Allegro. The most self-assured and rhythmically tight performance of the evening, the introduction opened confidently. There was more beautiful, soulful playing from the solo quartet, with particular mention going to Jess Gillingwater on viola. Although victim of a few tuning issues in the upper register of the first violins, the concert was brought to a great end with a complicated fugue executed well by the whole ensemble.