Sarah Blake gets in the festive spirit with UCLU Music Society
Music Society’s winter concert was the perfect way to get into a Christmassy mood. The music was not Christmas-themed; however the mulled wine and mince pies that accompanied the wonderful sounds of the UCLU Symphony Orchestra and Chorus created a special, wintery atmosphere in St. Pancras Church that every member of the audience seemed to enjoy.
Before the concert, I had never heard the orchestra or choir perform, but I was well aware of the high standards of both ensembles, so my expectations were rather high. They did not fail to impress.
The first piece, which was performed by both the orchestra and the choir, was Brahms’s Romantic Shicksalslied op. 54 (Song of Destiny). The opening orchestral prelude was beautifully slow and dramatic, and was gradually joined by the warm tones of the choir. Occasionally the strings seem slightly out of tune in the high pitched passages, which could have been as a result of the humidity of the church.
Neither the choir nor the orchestra drowned the other out and they perfectly demonstrated the programme note which stated that the choir ‘take over the music from the orchestra and then share it as equal partners’. The word painting worked excellently, with the dynamic variation being particularly effective at showing contrasts between the peaceful ‘like a sleeping babe’ to the furious ‘hurled like water from rock to rock’ later in the piece.
The next piece featured UCL medic Christopher Dunn, who was the Principal tuba of the National Youth Orchestra for two years, to name just one of his impressive musical achievements. During this Tuba Concerto in F Minor by Vaughan Williams, Christopher succeeded in making the instrument sound incredibly light, especially during the two cadenzas which were perfect opportunities to display his impressive technical ability. It was a very well chosen concerto as it showed off the virtuosity of the soloist whilst also exhibiting the talents of the orchestra, through their often very fast paced accompaniment.
After an interval, during which we took full advantage of the reasonably priced mulled wine, the orchestra recommenced with Rachmaninoff’s tone poem, Isle of the Dead. The opening of the piece seemed slightly hesitant, perhaps as the orchestra settled in to the unusual 5/8 metre, which is redolent of the motion of waves. However, as the piece developed any uncertainty disappeared; the motifs were well picked out by the various instruments and the sound produced by the orchestra at the powerfully intense climax of the piece was wonderful.
The final piece was Toward the Unknown Region by Vaughan Williams, which was beautifully performed by both the orchestra and the choir. The choir, I was later informed, had only fully practised this piece four times before the performance, but this was impossible to tell. Once again, the two ensembles smoothly blended together, and created an extremely moving performance.
It is safe to say that my expectations were not disappointed. For a university with no music department, the standard of the musicians is marvellous. Their next main event will be the opera next term, and I would recommend anyone to go along, to hear a group of students with a more or less entirely professional sound.
Featured image credit: Sue Wallace