Saturday 29 September 2012

ECO Celebrates

When I started listening to recordings of baroque music in the late 1970’s, the group which seemed to provide the most stylish recordings of Handel’s operas and oratorios was the English Chamber Orchestra. At a time when period instrument recordings were something more than a novelty, the English Chamber Orchestra provided stylish and sensitive playing in this repertoire. In fact, I still treasure their recordings. Even when period instrument playing became more common, their recordings found favour because of the standard of the instrumental playing. Of course, the orchestra is famous for far more than this. And on Monday 1 October, the orchestra will be celebrating 5 decades of music making with a concert at the South Bank Centre.

In fact ECO were chosen to open both the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Snape Maltings, both in 1967. The group first played as the English Chamber Orchestra in October 1960, but the group’s origins go further back. Originally founded just after the Second World War as the Goldsborough Orchestra by Arnold Goldsborough, as a specialist baroque ensemble the name changed to reflect the group’s growing reputation in other areas.

Their first principal conductor was Colin Davis, and he is now their Conductor Emeritus. Another notable relationship was with Benjamin Britten, with the ensemble virtually taking up residence at the Aldeburgh Festival and regularly playing for the English Opera Group. Notable Britten performances included the premieres of the Cello Symphony, Curlew River, Owen Wingrave, A midsummer Night's Dream and taking his operas Albert Herring and The Turn of the Screw to Russia.

The Handel recordings which I referred to earlier, included a notable Ariodante with Janet Baker conducted by Raymond Leppard, and Charles Mackerras conducting Saul. And of course, Nigel Kennedy's first recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons was with the English Chamber Orchestra.

On October 1 they will be joined by Maxim Vengerov (violin and conductor), soprano Kiri te Kanawa and pianist Behzod Abduraimov. The programme includes Mozart’s overture to The Marriage of Figaro, Piano concerto no 20, and two concert arias, plus Massenet’s Meditation from Thais, Ravel’s Tzigane, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and Britten’s Soirees Musicales.

Further details from the Southbank Centre website.

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