Concert Review

Music to Herald the Coming of Spring
English String Orchestra directed by Michael Bochmann MBE (violin)
with George Ewart (violin)
Lion Ballroom, Leominster
4 March 2016

An Espressivo promotion

Inspired ... ? If not, you should have heard the English String Orchestra at Leominster’s wonderful Lion Ballroom! Simple!

I always enjoy Bochmann ... and Co! Even if arriving out-of-sorts, one cannot leave without joy! And why? Because their magnificent music is always hugely interesting, elevating and, indeed, inspiring! Bochmann offers exciting programmes of energetic, and sensitive, pieces that evoke the desire to dance one minute - and reflect the next. No element of life or emotion escapes expression through the bows and instruments of these skilled players - whose ebullience and enthusiasm are so rewarding! The soul is richly nourished and lifted, metaphorically, on high ... and, tonight, the rapturous applause, after every piece, reflected the audience’s obvious enjoyment and elevation!

The smiling Bochmann (recently honoured with an MBE for his services to music) began as the characterful leader he is ... from the front. The familiar ‘Spring’ from Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ sang out to ‘herald’ a season we are still hoping will truly consolidate - despite the sunny vanguard of brave daffodils! Tonight, the light rain, glistening outside in the shadows, featured only briefly in the music’s poetry as a spring thunderstorm. Bird-song, a sleeping goatherd and gallivanting nymphs and shepherds also filled the scenes – along with images of bursting shoots, vibrant flowers and all natural things, animals and insects, un-perished through winter. All seemed, triumphantly, to search in warming temperatures for the nectar and promise of life... The intimacy of the chamber orchestra drew individual dynamics of survival and growth directly together ... with a vision of all this ‘life’ sustaining its energy into the summer and the rest of the year...

The young Mozart’s delightful Divertimento in D K136 continued the theme. In this most attractive venue, never sombre, all our spirits rose again with the first movement’s youthful and refreshing energy. I wondered at the capacity of a mind that could transfer all these flamboyant ideas onto paper amidst such an explosion of creativity! He must, too, have been overwhelmed and glad to restrain himself for the flowing, song-like second movement! The players performed with consolidated ease and string vibrancy gracefully filled the room until the helter-skelter, hopping, skipping and jumping of the playful third movement. The race to fill the mind, with gaps too short for anything but relentless appreciation, at last abated – after a spirited and satisfying finale. Sheer entertainment!

Next – the amazing J.S. Bach Concerto for two violins and strings in D minor! The soloists, Michael Bochmann and George Ewart, led the orchestra in this ‘double violin’ concerto with a bombastic strength that commanded and demanded total attention. Everyone performed this ‘discourse’ between soloists, and soloists and orchestra, superbly and, in the second movement, the intense and contrasting themes did not merely create interweaving patterns, they ‘flew’ as swirling swarms in a tumultuous sky – curving in and out on rising thermals to greater heights and further realms... For me this seemed to signify life transcending itself on a writhing ‘whirlwind’ of music ... an unrelenting release of emotion perhaps forgetful of, and thus unhampered by, earth’s bedrock and life’s inhibiting care and conflict below. In and out, up and down – and around – they went - towards a thoroughly satisfying conclusion that, at last, led into the powerful and exuberant final movement. Initially over another bedrock played solidly by the cello, the orchestra continued to excel itself in a passionate balance of sounds. It was a brilliant out-pouring – that felt to me to be trying to consolidate some common purpose – and all this marked by prolific applause from the entire delighted audience.

The interval gave a little unwelcome, if needed, rest! Then ‘A Downland Suite’ by John Ireland – who, being English despite his name, often evoked his country’s landscape in his works. Tonight’s first movement drew on raw outdoor elements that, composed between the two World Wars, for me, carried a certain kind of natural positivity. The elegiac second movement, though melancholic, never sounded over-negative. It seemed to me to perhaps reflect something of the horrors of what had gone before but to also look forward to a more hopeful future - as yet untainted by recurrent conflict. The charming minuet, beautifully played with great precision and a positive, content togetherness, visualised, for me, the people of the landscape - a delightful, structured allusion, maybe, to country folk active within a calm, as history knows, soon to be shattered. Led by the cello, the players then gave us the bright ‘Rondo’ movement - with a decisive magnificence that penetrated to the heart of the music and on to its final flourish.

Tchaikovsky’s ‘Andante Cantabile’ provided a lyrical and mysterious interlude before the final series of dances from Bartok (Romanian Folk Dances), Dvorak (his Waltz in A Op 54 No 1) and Brahms (his very popular Hungarian Dance No 5 in G minor). Based on a Ukrainian folk song, the Russian’s movingly romantic, soulful and velvety sound-scape was so sensitively played that the audience were incapable of immediate response. The last notes preceded a long pause before total appreciation was expressed. What more could a performer want!

The final three groups of dances offered, in their rhythmic variety, a sense of majesty, delicacy, quasi-oriental mystery, writhing simplicity, expansive harmony and full-tilt (almost drunken!) dancing followed by a light and lilting waltz (bringing peace and predictability) and the exuberant familiarity of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance. The players were totally as one in the thrilling excitement of throbbing dynamics and encored with yet another fantastic European dance to end! Phew!

Bochmann and Co. were as enigmatic and unpredictable as ever and, with their habit of different players introducing each work adding to the evening’s overall intimacy, they brought enthralling entertainment to an audience who all left, I can vouch, with joy on their faces, in their hearts and in their expressed appreciation.

The ESO’s next concert is soon – on Sunday, March 13th at 3 pm - at Christ Church, Avenue Road, Malvern WR14 3AY. They will repeat this programme - minus the Ireland, but with a mystery piece reflecting their musical commitment to the young - so - if you want to be inspired - don’t miss it!

Stella Seaton-Sims

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