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The overture to Suppé's operetta Pique Dame opened Derby Concert Orchestra's very first concert seventy years ago, and it did the honours again for the anniversary - Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 14 March 2020. There was a fine sense of conspiratorial stealth about the opening, and the Italian flavour brought out in the later theme for two flutes was a reminder that Suppé was distantly related to Donizetti. But in the fast polka that occupies much of the rest, orchestra and conductor Jonathan Trout left us in no doubt of the composer's Viennese credentials.
Derby-born cellist Katherine Jenkinson is known mostly as a chamber musician, so this was a welcome opportunity to hear her as a concerto soloist, with Assistant Conductor Ed Temple. The performance rather played down the heroic qualities of Dvořák's Cello Concerto in favour of a more intimate approach. The orchestral opening was subdued, leading to a more serene account of the solo horn theme than usual. Jenkinson herself is not one to take the solo part by the scruff of the neck, and her playing was all of a piece with the orchestral contribution. Not that the big moments were short-changed. The first-movement recapitulation can be thrilling, and it was here.
The second movement struck a fine balance between the imposing and the intimate, Jenkinson touching all the emotional depth of the passage Dvořák marked 'quasi-cadenza'. At times, though, it felt as though the orchestra needed to relax just a touch, and this seemed to carry over into the finale. There was a air of dogged persistence at the start, and as the movement went on it tended to feel somewhat episodic; some joins between sections were not ideally smooth. The brass was inclined to overbalance the sound - it often does in this venue - and I occasionally got the impression that Jenkinson was trying to move things on. The confiding final moments, though, were properly touching.
After the interval, Jonathan Trout returned to the podium for Holst's The Planets (which featured in DCO's fiftieth anniversary concert). 'Mars' was oppressive rather than brutal, and the chromatics in the slow section have rarely sounded quite so insidious. 'Venus' could have afforded to loosen up a little more, and 'Mercury' took a while to settle, but was suitably fleet-footed once it did.
'Jupiter' was marked by some playful wind solos. The tolling flutes at the start of 'Saturn' had real plangency, and there was a magical stillness at the end. The dance rhythms of 'Uranus' were nicely pointed, and the sense of the magician's bumbling, possibly pointless, activity was irresistible. 'Neptune' is probably the trickiest movement to bring off, and here it occasionally seemed a tad restless. The entry of the voices - Derby Cathedral's choristers, not credited in the programme for some reason - was a bit more noticeable than ideal, but their tone was nicely sustained, although the altos were occasionally over-prominent. The concluding fade-out was beautifully measured.
Copyright © 24 March 2020