London Schools Symphony Orchestra – Britten, Vaughan Williams & Elgar

Sinfonia da Requiem, Op.20
Vaughan Williams
Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36

London Schools Symphony Orchestra
Dante Quartet [Krysia Osostowicz & Giles Francis (violins), Judith Busbridge (viola) & Bernard Gregor-Smith (cello)]
Nicholas Kraemer

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 22 April, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Nicholas Kraemer. ©Robert Carpenter TurnerFor a concert taking place on the eve of St George’s Day, this was a particularly well-planned programme, being made up of three English masterpieces by composers who were each at the virtual outset of their respective international careers when the works were written. Given the make-up of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra, it was not a little disconcerting to realise that not one candidate from the imminent London mayoral elections – nor any government education minister – was likely to have been present.

Had they been, they would have joined an audience witnessing some fine music-making by these gifted young players under Nicholas Kraemer. They began with an impressive account of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, a work that – certainly within living memory – would have been considered the province only of professional orchestras. Not that the playing here was entirely immaculate: the woodwinds, in the opening pages, took a little while to settle, and parts of the very demanding central ‘Dies Irae’ movement were not as crisp in ensemble as desirable. But the difficult 9/8 passages for trumpets and horns were thrillingly played, as was the collapse at the end of this movement – extremely well handled by Kraemer. The intensity and committed belief in this playing were tangible – these young players certainly got to the heart of this work.

Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia saw the orchestral strings joined by the Dante Quartet for the solo passages, and it was good to see the nine players in the second orchestra seated separately, spread out at the rear of the platform, where the stereophonically recessed nature of the composer’s writing could be more effectively conveyed. As with the Britten, this was a compelling reading, Kraemer’s tempos never letting this luminous music drag. Although intonation was not pluperfect, this was a heartfelt performance.

Elgar’s Enigma Variations asks of the orchestra much more in terms of interpretative, technical and virtuosic demands, and this performance was a little lacking in terms of those gossamer-like elements (in ‘Dorabella’ and ‘Romanza’) that enhance the composer’s subtleties of light and shade in his orchestration. None the less, this was a performance not meant to be judged at the highest level, but few orchestras – professional or not – could have matched these young people for depth of feeling and sheer enjoyment in recreating such an excellent and genuinely musical reading of this imperishable masterwork.

Nicholas Kraemer is to be strongly commended for his admirable achievement – so too should every member of this remarkable Orchestra of ‘the flower of cities all’.

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