The most striking thing about the London Chamber Orchestra is not that the musicians stand when they play (excepting cello and bass), that they are young (median age about 25, I'd guess), or the fact that their director conducts "from the bow" while playing first violin. The amazing thing is the utter ease of their musicality and the sense of rightness they bring to performances that range from high classical to ripe romantic. Also, their sound. An orchestra has a certain "sound" when elements of intonation, rhythm and balance all fit perfectly. It is rare, and the London Chamber Orchestra has it.
Considering the reputation of this group as a rather brash, new-wave touring ensemble, the program they brought to UB's Mainstage was decidedly on the somber side, including Haydn's "Trauer" Symphony in E-minor, the tortured Chamber Symphony in C-minor by Shostakovitch and the mournfully serene "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" by Estonian composer Arvo Part. Mozart's delightful Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for violin and viola lightened the mood at the end, with violinist Christopher Warren-Green and violist Roger Chase in an elegant tumble and spin-dry of all that prior intensity.
If the Mozart was an emotional relief, there was no less precision in the playing, for the two soloists traded lines fluidly with the orchestra acting as almost a third soloist, so tight was the ensemble. Mozart surely would have loved the high-rip finale, full speed ahead, with smiles all around, players and audience alike.
Earlier on the classical beat, Haydn's Symphony No. 44, full of stormy intensity, shot through with sudden accents and dark probings -- carried off with wonderful clarity and articulation by Warren-Green's players.
Arvo Part's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" was a kind of minimalist poem, chiming bell and descending scales over sustained tones, violin harmonics and a gradual layering on and stretching out, simplicity made profound.
Most impressive of all was the Shostakovitch -- all the autobiographical, political and programmatic baggage of the orchestral arrangement of the Eighth String Quartet dramatically sustained in this performance.
London Chamber Orchestra
The second Bernice Poss Memorial Concert; Christopher Warren-Green, conducting.
Sunday at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts.