I'm a little ambivalent about The European Union Chamber Orchestra; they've been going now for 20 years, funded mainly by European taxpayers to act as musical ambassadors throughout the world and to bring small orchestra music to the regions of Europe that aren't usually visited by the more famous ensembles, of itself an admirable aim. The trouble is that the musicians aren't out of the top drawer and the venues seem to be those small to medium sized concert halls that are the regular stop offs for such bands and so they aren't really 'bringing music to cultural deserts' but topping up what's already there. But, what they do do is attract a series of up and coming young soloists like Natalie Klein and, tonight's soloist, Nicola Benedetti.
Nicola (or Nicky as she was referred to in the pre-concert talk) starred in that piece made famous by telephone hold muzak; Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. Despite being heard everywhere, played by everyone, familiarity doesn't dim the pleasure this old favourite brings when played by even a halfways decent orchestra. Drawing musical pictures of birds, weather and pastoral pursuits, it is a delightful piece and, although not reaching the heights of St. MIFs well known recording, EUCO did it justice and Nicky played her heart out, really throwing herself into the part, teasing other members of the orchestra, losing herself in the more contemplative sections and pulling the audience in to make those pictures stand out so vividly. It was a fine performance to close their short tour of the UK. Unfortunately it was the climax of the evening and the remaining three pieces actually provided an anti-climax for me that meant the evening ended on much less of a high.
I'm never sure about Stravinsky; his ballets are superb but I find his orchestral works much more difficult to get my head round. Tonight's piece, the concerto in D for string orchestra (Basler) was no exception, there was some lovely interplay between the viola (Monika Bazgier I think) and Jerome Akoka on the lead fiddle but some of the spacings seemed odd to me and I couldn't for the life of me see the influences and connections that are supposed to be there.
Mozart's Divertimento in F major was as dull as anything he wrote and wasn't exactly inspiringly played.
The concert finished with Britten's Simple Symphony, I love this piece, especially the Playful Pizzicato and Frolicsome Finale, but it was a bit stolid, maybe it was end of tour relief or European stodginess, but it didn't really come off. It wasn't awful, just Ok, or maybe I'm going down with something.
They're not a bad orchestra, in fact it isn't the first time we've seen them and I'm sure they were better when we saw them before, maybe they aren't in sympathy with the pieces, or maybe I am going down with something, I know, I'll blame it on the Tories.