The effect of the evening sun streaming through Durham Town Hall’s large stained glass window and bathing the DUOS Chamber Orchestra in light set the stage for a theatrical programme that glittered with musical colour on Friday evening.
Instead of the advertised White Landscapes by Takashi Yoshimatsu which they were sadly unable to perform for copyright reasons, DUOS Chamber opened with Jean Sibelius’s suite Belshazzar’s Feast, written for a play by Hjalmar Procope. Although I was disappointed not to hear the Yoshimatsu, this was definitely a welcome bonus. It began with a pulsing, thudding bass, overlaid by the first appearance of DUOS’s excellent woodwind section, and clean strings. Conductor Leo Zagorac kept this first movement under tight control, adding to the excitement and as I looked around, I could see that I wasn’t the only person whose feet were tapping.
The slow inner movements sounded a little hesitant in places but understandable given that they may not have had as much rehearsal as they’d have liked. In an evening dominated by woodwinds, the second movement gave cello Eloise Ramchandi and viola Jamie Hardwicke a gentle moment in the spotlight and there were some sumptuously dark colours from the clarinet and lower strings in the third. The thumping bass returned for the playful final movement, and again, Leo Zagorac’s tight control of dynamics added excitement.
Maurice Maeterlinck’s symbolist play of doomed love Pelleas et Mélisande inspired several composers, including Claude Debussy who turned it into his only opera. Tonight we heard Gabriel Fauré’s response to the play, in a suite that includes the much-loved Sicilienne, for flute and harp. We had already heard flautist Emily Fox’s excellent breath control and range of colour in her solo during Belshazzar’s Feast and she shone again, with harpist Matilda Prescott-Jones and the orchestra adding light and shade in a gently lilting performance that was spacious but without dragging. I also very much enjoyed the dreamy first movement which was finely shaped by Zagorac and the sense of mystery that pervaded the closing movement depicting Melisande’s death.
Procope and Maeterlinck’s plays may be more famous for the music they inspired, but that definitely cannot be said of the next play on DUOS’s theatre tour – Shakespeare’s The Tempest. DUOS gave us Sibelius’s take on Propsero’s magic island, interspersed with dialogue from the play performed by Emilia Lewis and Charlie Moscrop from Durham Student Theatre. The whisper of violin harmonics in the opening Chorus of the Winds created a world of magic and the DUOS horns were warm and gorgeous in their little chorus.The songs and dances that followed were playful and atmospheric, with stylish phrasing.
For the final item on the programme, DUOS left the theatre for Zoltán Kodály’s riotous Dances of Galanta, a single-movement piece that ticked all the boxes in Central Europe bingo. Special praise here goes to Freya Lockeretz for a superb clarinet solo in which she made some extremely demanding writing sound fresh and improvised. There was nimble oboe playing too from Louis Sanders and fine flourishes from the strings. The cellos and violas had set the mood in their solid opening and gave the swaggering pulse and dark tones that underpinned all the virtuosic thrills going on above them. Zagorac led the orchestra with bravado through the inevitable acceleration and the concert ended as it had begun with lots of foot-tapping in the audience.