Concert Review

Thirteenth Annual ESO Christmas Concert
ESO String Orchestra directed by Michael Bochmann (violin)
with Graeme Adams (oboe) and Eleanor Cooke (violin)
The Great Hall, Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire
7 December 2014

An Espressivo promotion

Our smiling faces peered out into the night and, venturing forth to embrace the cool, Gloucestershire air, our hearts and souls felt duly warmed and primed for the festive season. We had just experienced the glorious music, poetry and boundless energy of Michael Bochmann and his ESO String Orchestra!

No stuffy musicians here! This very special concert, in such an intimate setting, delighted everyone with spirit and fun interwoven with equally provocative, relaxed and thoughtful moments of the very best music. Many audience members, from near and far, return for more every year - so book your tickets early!

Imagine – carved stone walls, warm fire-glow, stained glass, shimmering candelabra and twinkling Christmas tree lights ... an ancient, family home thrown open by the resident Berkeley family for our enjoyment. This same family has lived here for nearly nine hundred years – longer than any other family in any other fortress in England – and has participated in many major historic events, particularly in medieval times, since their castle’s origins in the 11th Century. We must thank them heartily for allowing us this opportunity to drink in its awe-inspiring atmosphere as there can be few places that provoke such a direct response to sheer history.

Christmas refreshments in the Long Drawing Room preceded our descent down the beautifully romantic seventeenth-century Grand Stairs, clad in a red and black carpet to match the embroidered fabric of the walls, to the Great Hall for our evening’s entertainment.

The players struck up a first half of vibrant Baroque music by Boyce, Marcello, Vivaldi (in whose Double Violin Concerto, Michael Bochmann was joined by Eleanor Cooke) and Bach and, led by Michael, they teased out all the emotional and dynamic variation possible. The combination of strings and oboe (played beautifully and crisply by soloist Graeme Adams) spoke to us so vividly that one could ‘see’, in one’s mind’s eye, the hall full of dancers through the centuries ... Everywhere fine, silent tapestries and portraits, many of family members, looked down on us as if they, too, were listening ... while, in other shadowy nooks of the castle, may have listened the carvers of wood and stone, the turners of spits, the kneaders of dough and the threshers of corn. One could imagine them all, with or without flowing gowns and meaningful glances, inspired to dance – heel to toe!

The second half of our evening began with a poignant choice of poetry – so sensitively read by Kath Brain. Tennyson’s ‘Ring Out Wild Bells’, looking beyond Christmas to the new year with its rejection of the old and the ringing in of the new, led into a feast of lighter and more familiar music. From Handel, through Gruber’s ‘Silent Night’ and Morricone film music to Grieg (in whose two Elegiac Melodies the lovely, heart-rending sound of the cello especially penetrated my soul), the evening drew to a close with a gypsy-like Brahms Hungarian Dance, the Australian Percy Grainger’s ‘Molly on the Shore’ and Anderson’s ‘Plink, Plank, Plunk’ and ‘The Syncopated Clock’! We were not necessarily sure what was coming next and this surprise element - laced with ebullient humour and each orchestral section enjoying its ‘time in the sun’ – gave us the up-lifting ‘fun’ end that sent us home happy!

Could we, or the joyful players, have had a better evening ... I think not ... no!

Stella Seaton-Sims

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