Monday 9 January 2012

Constella Orchestra in Mozart, Delius and Stravinsky

St. Margaret's Church, Lee
The Constella Orchestra gave their first concert in 2011, they were founded by conductor/composer Leo Geyer and oboist/orchestral manager Henry Clay. Their debut concert was in September 2011and the group gave they new year concert on Friday 6th January at St. Margaret's Church, Brandram Road, Blackheath/Lee. The players (all unpaid) consist of mainly undergraduates from music colleges and universities, with some postgraduates and one or two from the Trinity College and Guildall Junior courses. Geyer and Clay are both on the RNCM  and University of Manchester joint course and Manchester is well represented in the orchestra, with other players from York Univerity, Trinity College, University of East Anglia, Guildhall, Birmingham Conservatoire, Oxford University and Cambridge University.

Fielding of group of some 39 players, conducted by Geyer, the orchestra gave an interesting programme in the fabulous High Victorian surroundings of St. Margaret's Church, Lee (a short distance from Blackheath station). The programme consisted of Mozart's Overture to the Marriage of Figaro, Two Pieces for Small Orchestra by Frederick Delius and the complete Pulcinella Ballet score by Stravinsky. An enterprising programme indeed, especially as the Stravinsky score is rarely heard complete.

Geyer's speeds for the Mozart were quite brisk and I got the feeling that his players might have been more comfortable with steadier ones, but they played with brilliant elan. Once of my principal thoughts about the sound of the group, in all the items, was bright, brilliant sound they made, vivid and highly coloured; accents and dynamic contrasts were very much in evidence. This is a lively, young orchestra and sounds it but the playing has a matching sophistication with some lovely wind playing in the Mozart.

For the Delius, Geyer had to attempt the difficult task of bringing of Delius's subtle rapture within the confines of a Victorian church with a rather lively acoustic. The results were not quite perfect, but the group caught the element of quite rapture which characterises both the piece On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring and Summer Night on the River. Again there were some lovely individual contributions with very fine and subtle playing from leader Frederick Taylor and cellist Auriol Evans.

Pulcinella spans the period when Stravinsky's style change from his first, Russian one, to his neo-Classical style. The piece was commissioned by Diaghilev as a follow up to Respighi's orchestrations of early music which the Ballets Russes had used in other ballets. But the First War intervened and by the time the complete ballet came to be performed, Stravinsky had changed his mind about the orchestration and slimmed it down to the brilliant, neo-Classical one that we hear today.

The Constella Orchestra managed to give the piece a nicely new-minted feel, giving us a sense that we were discovering the music for the first time. There was an occasional hint of instability of ensemble, but overall the playing was crisp and newly-minted. Fine solo contributions from all round, especially David Huntriss on trombone. The solo singers were three young graduates, Sarah Parkin (soprano), Timothy Langston (tenor) and Dmitry Yumashev (baritone). Singing from memory, each accomplished the tricky feat of managing to stay true to Stravinsky whilst not ignoring the underlying late Baroque nature of the vocal lines. All three were nicely crisp of delivery and Timothy Langston was particularly impressive in his tongue-twister solo. The programme gave us a summary of the plot, but omitted to provide the words or translations.

The Constella Orchestra aims to give undergraduates and graduates valuable experience playing in a chamber orchestra. They do so with elan and enviable confidence. Their next concert is on April 14th, again at St Margaret's Church, when Simon Standage will be the soloist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

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