Orchestra of The Swan
In many ways it’s brave – although not exactly rare – to programme a whole concert featuring the music of one composer. The standard arrangement usually gives a chance to ponder two different composers’ approaches to a theme or to recognise the similarities. Pairing up works is one of the programmer’s most important roles.
This concert – under conductor Tom Hammond – offered not just one opportunity to compare but many, comprising varied slices of Sibelius’s work. There were better-known works in the form of the ever-popular Swan of Tuonela to open and the swirling Seventh Symphony to close. And sandwiched between the violin Humoreques and a scattering of orchestra treats and ballet music not heard so often.
There is a case for saying you can’t go wrong with The Swan of Tuonela as an opener. It’s beautiful melodically and in its texture. It lulls and soothes and it would be hard for the petty annoyances of modern life to still be troubling the mind after hearing this. The stunning cor anglais part – itself practically a concerto in its own right – was superbly handled by Louise Braithwaite as were the baton-passing melodies moving through the strings.
Given the January temperatures outdoors and the occasional bleakness of Sibelius’s Scandinavian landscape, there was a pleasing note of warmth throughout this programme.
Soloist Tamsin Waley-Cohen has a fine CV of working with orchestras around the world but made a welcome return for the four violin Humoresques in this programme. She’s worked with the Orchestra of the Swan before and the affinity certainly shows. This set perhaps lacks the expansion and development the more famous concerto might have offered but there were still rewards. There was some sensational technique on display but the fireworks didn’t obliterate some fine lyrical playing.
Sibelius is a composer you rarely hear a bad word about. The mixture of swirling orchestration, rich melodies and soundscapes you feel you can almost walk through make him a favourite with almost everyone who ever gets to hear his work. With this intriguing – and very generous – programme we can pause along one of those walks and gaze at the scenery long enough to realise that, though there is a similarity to it all, there are so many details and treats (if you’re prepared to look) that it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, thoroughly rewarding journey.
The orchestra’s Stratford series continues next month with a programme entitled Immortal Beloved (Stratford Playhouse, Tuesday 25 February) which offers an unmissable chance to hear 2018 Young Musician star Lauren Zhang tackling the vast scale of Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto. Details of all concerts can be found at orchestraoftheswan.org