Review: Orchestra of the Swan, at Birmingham Town Hall

The Orchestra of the Swan has fine-tuned its act to such a pitch of perfection that it would be very difficult to find any ways in which it could improve the presentation of its concerts.
 
Its opening concert of its third season as artists-in-residence at Birmingham Town Hall displayed so many qualities: an informal, audience-embracing pre-concert discussion from the stage; a cleverly-constructed programme combining the little-known (including contemporary with a human face) with the well-loved; a remarkable standard of performance and conducting (David Curtis); and the appearance of two wonderful soloists, cellist husband-and-wife Mr and Mrs Julian Lloyd Webber.
 
And the result of all this was a packed auditorium last Wednesday afternoon, embracing all age-groups, including those who whether because of age or disability are reluctant to brave the city centre in the evening.
 
Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,lively and expectant, was reflected in Alec Roth's sad, tender Departure of the Queen of Sheba. Over camel-clopping string accompaniments, oboe (Victoria Brawn) and cor anglais (Louise Braithwaite) intertwine in an erotic and regretful farewell, before Sheba the oboe reluctantly leaves the stage. The piece drew huge applause.
 
A well-established "Farewell" came with Haydn's Symphony no. 45, tautly delivered, not least its quirky Minuet movement, and then, during the gracious coda to the finale, wittily accommodating space for the gracious departure of instrumentalists turn by turn (Haydn's musicians had wanted to go back home to Vienna), and even the conductor, leaving two forlorn violinists to turn the lights out.
 
As for the soloists, Julian Lloyd Webber evidently enjoyed his crisp and lyrical chamber music-like collaboration with his orchestral colleagues in Haydn's C major Cello Concerto.

He was joined by Jiaxin Cheng in Vivaldi's dark, earthy G minor Concerto for two cellos, and what a tremendous, like-minded and like-articulating couple they made -- and this particular partnership was their first in public together.