The Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra was founded in 2009 by violinist Alex Laing, since when it’s led a double life. As the house orchestra of Lichfield Cathedral, it regularly assembles a carefully-chosen team of locally-based professional players to support the Cathedral’s musical establishment. But several times a year, it steps forward in its own right to give short, beautifully balanced orchestral programmes that burst with musical personality.
DECO’s October concert was exactly that. On paper, it looked short: Beethoven’s Prometheus overture, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and Mozart’s 40th Symphony, under the baton of former Lichfield Cathedral organist Philip Scriven. But there was nothing of the choirstalls about these performances. DECO knows Lichfield Cathedral intimately, and turns an acoustic that some performers find problematic into a positive strength.
So Scriven and his players tore into the Beethoven at a phenomenal lick, and took the outer movements of the Mozart at near-identical tempi – a molto allegro that was very much molto. The Andante lilted along with dance-like poise, while the minuet, conducted by Scriven in a robust three, became an anchor-point for the whole symphonic arc – making the four movements one conception and proving that there are always new perspectives to be found even in music as familiar as this.
The Wagner, meanwhile, benefited from the qualities of DECO’s handpicked woodwind team; George Caird’s rich, articulate oboe tone in particular singing through Wagner’s (at times) near-impressionistic writing. It could almost have been Ravel. DECO may be small, but it’s wonderfully generous with its musicianship.