There is a stone of white marble on the Cambridge Backs, tucked beneath a tree in King’s College, which bears a short rhyming poem by Xu Zhimo. “Quietly now I leave the Cam,” the poet begins (in Silas Brown’s translation), tendering a farewell to the river, the city, and “the clouded Western sky aflame.” Zhimo’s poem conveys not only the feeling of moving on, but also that September-ish sense of something lingering; the trace of one season and the sign of the next. “But as for me, I cannot sing this muted summer’s evening,” the poet laments. “Even insects hush, as silence plays the flute for leaving.”
Such was the feeling of sitting down to hear the East Anglia Chamber Orchestra on Saturday. The concert began with Zoltán Kodály’s Nyári Este (Summer Evening), a plaintive song without words, announced by a lone cor anglais, and then taken up in a rising wave of strings. Splashes of folk tune, tendered by the wind section, were nicely softened in this piece by some warm, full-bodied string playing, guided by the orchestra’s expert leader, Helen Medlock.
With the end of Kodály’s Summer Evening came a brief scene change and the arrival of Dame Evelyn Glennie. Eric Ewazen’s Concerto for Marimba and Strings begins with a tremulous theme on the marimba – a member of the xylophone family, though deeper and mellower than its well-known relative. The distinct textures of this piece were anticipated by those of the Kodály: sharp, rhythmic turns of conversation between orchestra and soloist were followed by episodes of lyrical rumination, as in the third movement, where a sprightly, angular dance was interpolated by the opening theme. The effect, often, was to show how finely suited the orchestra is to this kind of venture, in the sense that precise and sensitive playing did credit both to the sylvan genius, Glennie, and to the ensemble, directed by Jacques Cohen.
The evening closed with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 6 (‘Pastoral’). The playing, again, was precise and well balanced. Agile wind solos in the third movement and ‘birdsong’ interlude were ably supported by a steady string section, and followed by the dramatic input of brass, piccolo, and timpani in the wake of the ‘storm’. The feeling here, as throughout the evening, was one of dynamic contrast, grounded in a rigorous understanding of the music. The impression of a stolen season – a summer’s evening unmuted – lingers on the mind.
East Anglia Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Jacques Cohen
West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge
21 September 2013