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Review: Orchestra of the Swan at Birmingham Town Hall

Orchestra of the Swan's performance at Birmingham Town Hall was absolutely delightful.

How time flies. It seems only a few years ago when we first became aware of Orchestra of the Swan – and now we’re celebrating its 21st anniversary.

As David Curtis told us in the pre-concert talk, what began as a scratch band assembled in Stratford for a friend soon developed into a proper orchestra, and in the process changed Curtis from viola player (with the Coull Quartet) into a full-time conductor.

And it’s this chamber music experience that has made OOTS so distinctive. Over the years Curtis has moulded his players into a unified ensemble of individual musicians untrammelled by the histrionics of an egocentric conductor.

Some harsh string tone at the start of Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 did, perhaps, display too much personal freedom from the violins, and it took a while for the work’s essential lyricism to emerge. Haydn’s Symphony No. 43 (‘Mercury’) on the whole fared much better, with nicely shaded dynamics and a cracking finale that never sacrificed accuracy for speed.

One of Curtis’s greatest strengths has always been his empathy with soloists. On this occasion the lucky recipient was Laura van der Heijden who, in Haydn’s D major Cello Concerto, displayed a maturity and technical assurance far beyond her nineteen years.

In this remarkable performance (beautifully supported by Curtis and OOTS) the work’s technical difficulties were subsumed by the warmth, elegance and sheer poetry of van der Heijden’s playing. Even the obvious virtuosity of her own first-movement cadenza took the underlying poignancy of Haydn’s original material to new levels of expressive power, while the Rondo’s lilting charm and grace were delivered with the lightest of touches. Absolutely delightful.

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