REVIEW: Vacation Chamber Orchestras at St Mary’s Church, Richmond

Vacation Chamber Orchestra perform at St Mary’s Church, in Richmond.

By Chris Shaw

It never ceases to amaze me that the Vacation Chamber Orchestra can put on such polished performances on such short rehearsal time and their concert in St Mary’s Church Richmond was no exception to this.

Quite a large group of school and music college students were gathered for this concert and the programme was particularly well constructed with a variety of styles yet a genuine musical coherence.

The orchestra began with Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. In spite of a rather chilly church, the orchestra were straight into their stride here. There was some beautiful wind playing but the strings should be commended for their extremely subtle but stylish playing in this piece.

From the fluidity of the Ravel, the orchestra accomplished a very successful transition to the precision and clarity required for the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante K297b for orchestra and four wind soloists; Josh Hall, oboe, Guylaine Eckersley, bassoon, Billy Marshall, horn and Aaron Hartnell-Booth, clarinet.

Church acoustics are rarely ideal for Mozart but the balance between the orchestra and the soloists was carefully managed by the conductor, Xen Kelsey, allowing us to hear the detail of the solo parts but bringing out the orchestra parts when necessary. There was some extremely neat and accurate playing from all four young soloists, blending their sounds and following each other stylistically.

After the interval we heard the rarely performed Pelléas and Méllisande Suite by Sibelius. Although the opening was well known to many as the signature tune of The Sky at Night, the rest of the suite was, for most, an undiscovered gem. Again, the orchestra showed their maturity by moving straight into an appropriately Nordic style. The darkness of the sound palette that the strings in particular produced was most effective.

The final item in the programme was Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances suite No. 1. This was conducted by Billy Marshall, the horn soloist from the Mozart and an extremely proficient job he made of it too.

The precision required for these movements was clearly indicated by Billy and the orchestra responded with the blend of olden style and early twentieth century twist that is needed to make these pieces work.

It was, in conclusion, an excellent evening’s entertainment. It was also particularly interesting to see players moving around within sections from piece to piece so that many had a chance to try their hand in leading a section; another aspect of the great training that VaCO provides.

The only disappointment was that the audience was on the small side. Do make every effort to see this wonderful orchestra of young people in the future.