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REVIEW: Oxford University Wind Orchestra HT20

Grace Heaversedge reviews OUWO’s Hilary Term Concert, which took place on Thursday 5th March at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin.

Despite the bitterly cold evening wind, throngs of audience members flocked to the warmth of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, in order to hear the dulcet tones of the Oxford University Wind Orchestra. As the audience filled the Church, their presence rising even to the balcony, so did the sound of the orchestra tuning. A sense of curiosity arose – what should one expect from an orchestra when the strings, an integral section, are absent? Of course, such curiosities were unnecessary as OUWO opened their concert with Blue Shades, one of Frank Ticheli’s best-known works for wind band. The opening passage, in which players are required to ‘swing’ their eighth notes, was acutely precise due to superb communication between sections. This work included impressive solos from the earthy bass clarinet (Rory McKinnon) and sultry oboe (Chris Pegrum), accompanied by a perfectly balanced purring flute section. Following the raucous brass really letting loose, we were greeted by a fantastically virtuosic solo from the clarinet (Ralph Lane); a seemingly improvisatory solo, wonderfully controlled. A fantastic opening to a whirlwind concert.

Escapades by John Williams was of course one of the highlights of the programme. Molly Goldstone, an Oxford alumna, returned to perform a stellar saxophone concerto. Her phrasing in the first movement, paired with her timbral range, matched perfectly with the piano and harp accompaniment in the first movement. Goldstone sensitively tapped into the humorous nature of the first movement – a well known movement, it implies elements of old American detective films with ‘cat-and-mouse’ chases. Goldstone’s versatility on the alto saxophone was once again projected in the second movement. Her solo moments evoked a wistful and melancholic character full of yearning and fragility – a sensitive and conscientious performance from Goldstone here. The third and final movement allowed Goldstone to demonstrate her technical prowess on the saxophone with moments of free improvisation. Her mature technical control was complemented by the orchestra’s rolling, engine-like accompaniment, creating an explosive ending to the first half of the concert.

It was no surprise to see that all members of the audience were present for the second-half, ready to be taken to Paris and Germany, all in the space of only forty minutes. One started in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, in the first movement of Martin Ellerby’s Paris Sketches. The muted, yet deep orchestral texture vividly evoked the drowsiness of the wakening Latin Quarter. The second movement, “Pigalle”, marked a contrast to the ambiguous nature of the first movement. Most impressively, this contrast of character was executed seamlessly by OUWO, thanks to their engaging conductor, Christopher O’Leary. One was haunted by the resurrection of Eric Satie in the third movement, “Père Lachaise”. The homage to Satie’s Gymnopédies was not only haunting, but unsettlingly tranquil – a complex set of characteristics subtly evoked by OUWO. “Les Halles” (movement four) once again marked a stark contrast to the preceding movement, brimming with Parisian attitude and flair. OUWO’s versatility of playing style was truly advertised incredibly by O’Leary’s programme choice here. To quote O’Leary: “And now for something completely different”. One was not disappointed by the organised chaos evoked in the first movement of Paul Hindemith’s Symphony in B-flat for Band. The tennis ball effect was evident, bouncing the known five-note motif between sections in the first movement, eventually joined by an organ-like, growling brass section. The mid-symphony Jig in the second movement was a fantastic palate cleanser preceding the final movement in the bound style. O’Leary knitted together the fugal motifs here, joining together the whole concert very neatly. An eclectic and climactic programme from OUWO. Special mention goes to Molly Goldstone for her sensitive, yet wild solo performance.


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