Bury St Edmunds Festival: Orchestral

English Chamber Orchestra, Bury Festival, St Edmundsbury Cathedral May 15

English Chamber Orchestra, Bury Festival, St Edmundsbury Cathedral May 15

The English Chamber Orchestra, making its first visit to the Bury Festival, put its distinctive stamp on works from the Baroque to the 21st Century. Concertgoers at St. Edmundsbury Cathedral were treated to an exhilarating evening by one of the finest chamber orchestras in the world.

It was an especially busy night for the orchestra's leader, Stephanie Gonley. Not only did she direct most of the concert from the violin, she also co-soloed two contrasting works with the scintillating oboist John Anderson. The pieces, Bach's Concerto in D Minor and Sirocco by David Heath, featured both instruments.

Heath, a 51-year-old man mountain from Manchester, was there to conduct his own 2001 work, which as it title suggests, has the hot dusty North African wind blowing across it.

Celtic, Gypsy and Arabic folk themes make up an intertwining dialogue which at times even battle with each other. This is created by feats of dazzling technical brilliance from both Stephanie Gonley and John Anderson. David Heath, who based some of his musical style on the alto sax work of John Coltrane, has long been an admirer of oboist John Anderson who recorded Sirocco a few years ago.

The Baroque works were a sheer delight. There can be no better opener than Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 played with such exquisite balance, vigour and triumphant brightness.

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The works of the 18th-Century Italian composer Luigi Boccherini have tended to be neglected over the years in favour of Haydn. However, cello soloist Caroline Dale reminded her audience what melodic, hauntingly lyrical and technically demanding music he wrote in the ECO's fine performance of Boccherini's Cello Concerto in B Flat.

The other modern work was Bartok's breathtaking Divertimento, yet another of those intriguing compositions written during the silence immediately before the storm of war in 1939. Sometimes it is introspective, sorrowful, in turmoil and concerned for the future. At other times it is playful, forgetful and full of complex parodies that echo folk-dance rhythms and themes. In a memorable programme, the Bartok makes a clever second half pairing with the David Heath work of half a century later.

Ivan Howlett

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