The Chapel is one of those corners of campus that I find myself often walking past, but never having gone in. Tucked behind the Old Library, it’s a small and intimate space (albeit one with very impressive headroom), and therefore a perfect venue for the Exeter University Chamber Orchestra’s Spring Concert.
Once we audience had settled down in our pews, and desisted from reading the nearby literature (never have I been more aware that my clothing contained mixed textiles), conductor Paul McClure – who promised ‘not to play the piano this time’, a promise he found himself unable to entirely keep (not that we minded) – welcomed us warmly. It was this friendly rapport between performers and audience which really defined the EUCO concert, and made it an enjoyable experience for all. McClure introduced each piece, giving a little background information, explaining musical features and pointing out motifs for us to listen out for and enjoy. Although already familiar with several of the pieces, I found these explanations helpful and instructive; classical music can occasionally feel a little complex or inaccessible, particularly to the uninitiated. That was not the case here: the EUCO provided an atmosphere of mutual enjoyment, with both ends of the hall clearly having a good time.
The concert opened with Vivaldi’s ‘Concerto for Two Cellos in G Minor’, a strong, dramatic choice for first piece. Soloists Gordon Cole-Schmidt and Théa-Rose Mumford excelled here, particularly in the ‘Largo’. This is one of my favourite cello-centric pieces, and it was a pleasure to hear it so well-realised. After appreciative applause we moved on to the second piece, Janacek’s 1877 ‘Suite for Strings’, which – as McClure explained – was written for a far larger orchestra than the EUCO. Nevertheless, the Orchestra succeeded admirably in rendering the piece’s complexity, and certainly gave it their all. We then returned to Vivaldi, with the ‘Concerto for Two Violins in A Minor’; solos by Izzy Smith and Rebecca Prince filled the chapel to the rafters, in smooth conversation with the rest of the orchestra. There’s nothing like a spot of Vivaldi to bring out the acoustics of a place, and the EUCO really made the chapel resonate with this one.
THERE’S NOTHING LIKE A SPOT OF VIVALDI TO BRING OUT THE ACOUSTICS OF A PLACE
We had been promised an eclectic mixture of music, and the next choice – two pieces from William Walton’s 1944 Henry V soundtrack – was certainly a change in scenery. I’m a huge fan of cinematic music, and always advocate its (sometimes derided) place in performance; the inclusion of the Henry V then easily gains my approval. Next, a small diversion into Mozart’s ‘Divertimento in F’ – can never go wrong with Mozart – followed by Bruch’s F major ‘Romance for Viola’. As a violinist, I like to joke about the viola being an inferior instrument, but even my poor sense of humour couldn’t argue with Rhian Evans’ solo performance. The viola is a thoroughly underrated solo instrument, and Evans had selected just the piece to prove it. The concert then closed on Hindemith’s Op.44/4, which for me was the weakest amongst an otherwise fantastic set. Much as I am partial to an atmospheric number, the Hindemith was a little too moody and indeed a little too cacophonous as a concert finale. Nevertheless well played, I would have preferred it earlier on, allowing the EUCO to end on a high.
The EUCO Spring Concert was, as my brownie-filled stomach and perpetually empty wallet reminds me, a fundraiser. The EUCO soon embarks upon a musical odyssey to Budapest, where they will be bringing their talents on tour – and the Spring Concert is anything to go by, our fellow Europeans will be lucky to have them.