Having never heard Castle Chamber Orchestra perform, I was very excited to hear them play their repertoire. The concert itself immediately hit the perfect balance of formality and relaxation in the wonderful atmosphere of St Oswald’s Church, with a sizeable audience. Despite its small size, the orchestra created an impressive sound immediately, with the balance between the string sections starting impeccably.
Bach’s Orchestral Suite No.1 in C major showed the expression and emotion of Edward Walter’s conducting, with a flawless continuo holding the more complicated fugal passages together. Despite some of the faster melodies in the first violin feeling slightly lost, the cellos and harpsichord kept the whole orchestra centred and stable throughout the Bach and the other pieces through the night.
The suspense was suitably built as the piano was moved for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, performed with Yuji Niimi as the soloist. Again, the cellos and bassoons remained the stable centre of the orchestra, now supported by trumpets and timpani, but at times struggling to keep the first and second violins with Walter’s beat. However, none of this threw Niimi even slightly. The lyrical melodies flowed from the piano almost effortlessly as he playfully switched between emotions, looking completely serene whilst conveying drama and tension in every second of his playing. The orchestra complimented his playing perfectly, allowing all the limelight to remain on his emphatic delivery of the familiar melody every time it returned. There were occasionally tuning issues in the 1st violins and horns, but never enough to detract from the beauty of the piece. I was almost sad to hear it finish: I could’ve sat and listened to Niimi play all night. Answering my prayers, Niimi then spontaneously played us a delightful piece by Mendelssohn, once again demonstrating the impressive technicality of his playing, but also the beauty and emotion he conveyed on a mid-range instrument. I was shocked to find out that this was his debut performance – I hope to hear a lot more of him in future!
After a short interval, we were thrown straight back in with the Haydn. Whilst beautiful, this was slightly more exposing to some of the issues in the strings: when contrasted to the impeccable timing and tuning of the rest of the strings, one could criticise the 1st violins at times. Walter’s conducting remained expressive and emotion and it would have been nice to see the 1st violins convey as much emotion into their playing as Walter’s was giving them. The 2nd violins however brought much of the emotion, with suspensions and countermelodies beautifully contrasting the melody. During the Andante, a soaring flute line from Lucia Forber continually added more dimension and emotion to the melody that the 1st violins had been playing. Ending in a rousing Presto, the Haydn finished in an absolutely captivating and entertaining conclusion. Despite having finished their official repertoire, Walter’s treated us to the beautiful Bach Air on G string, once again showing the beautiful expression of the 2nd violins, but leaving me desperately wanting more emotion in the melodies on 1st violin.
Overall, the concert was captivating, entertaining and showed the impressive quality of such a small orchestra: Walter’s conducting clearly bringing much of the orchestra to its full potential. It would have perhaps been nice to hear repertoire that was more string and brass heavy throughout the evening, but maybe I can have that void filled by going to more of their concerts! I would highly recommend going to see their counterpart (Castle Chamber Choir) on Wednesday 18th in the Norman Chapel under candlelight, where they’ll be performing a variety of meditative sacred music across the centuries!
Featured image from Castle Chamber Choir and Orchestra Facebook page