This concert celebrated both the Heritage Centre’s 200 birthday and 20 years of the Northern Chamber Orchestra playing there, and packed the place with an appreciative crowd.
The music was a mix of some from 1814 (or thereabouts), some from 1914, and a new piece by Adam Gorb – music of 2014.
Nicholas Ward, as ever the host for the evening as well as leader of the band, brought poise and energy to his task which was infectious among the musicians of the conductor-less orchestra. Rossini’s overture to the The Italian Girl In Algiers went off with its expected fizz, and was followed by the Theme and Variations from Spohr’s Octet, attractively arranged for both its original solo string players and full forces, with virtuosic horn and clarinet solos.
It had sentimentality, quirkiness, jollity, thoughtfulness and affection, often beautifully woven in bright orchestral colours.
The music of 1914 was Suk’s Meditation On St Wenceslas and Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, both written with that premonition of a world about to be torn asunder that music born ahead of wartime sometimes captures. The Suk, moving from wistful unease to desperate longing, was played with an effective sense of shape and, later, a passionate intensity. The Vaughan Williams, with Nicholas Ward as soloist, was warm and lyrical.
Adam Gorb’s new piece is called A Celebration and was designed for this occasion. It contrasted with every other piece on the programme by stretching the resources of a chamber orchestra to their very limit, not only giving the players demanding music to play but through using complex, multi-layered textures. The NCO rose to it wonderfully, and by the end were weaving a remarkable rich, ‘symphonic’ tapestry.
Its sections are unified by a repeated ‘ticking clock’ motif, and there were other allusions (or so it seemed to me) that might well have a personal meaning, for this music was not only the celebration of time passing but of a life well lived (Gorb’s father’s). It had sentimentality, quirkiness, jollity, thoughtfulness and affection, often beautifully woven in bright orchestral colours.
The concert ended with what would have been a season’s highlight in any other context, a bright and affable account of Beethoven’s second piano concerto by guest soloist Steven Osborne. If the orchestral opening was in danger of losing its first momentum, he soon remedied the situation when he joined them, and offered a wittily concise first movement cadenza, a poetic finish to the adagio and exhilarating playing in the finale.