[Tribune, Friday 6th September 2013, Cary Gee]

Oxford is a city full of music and the Oxford Proms (brainchild of violinist Edmund Jones) are a welcome addition to the summer scene. A series of chamber music is framed by orchestral concerts in Christopher Wren’s spectacular university venue. Jones’ purpose is to provide work for local professional musicians – not just freelancers from London – and this band is very impressive with tight ensemble, impeccable intonation, great string tone and fine wind solos.

Mozart’s opera seria “La Clemenza di Tito” has for its overture something of a trifle. This was despatched in crisp style by conductor John Traill. The consensus among scholars and players is that the concerto Mozart wrote for the clarinet was intended for the longer and lower Basset clarinet, and this certainly makes sense of the arpeggio figuration. Soloist Michael Collins was revelatory – effervescent as champagne and compelling in the beauty of tone. In the Adagio, Traill supported well, with the softest of string accompaniment, seeming to silence even the occasional evening reveller in Broad Street. If the tempo sometimes relaxed in the finale, Collins always recovered it brilliantly with exciting, physical playing.

In Britten’s centenary year, we didn’t get BB but Arvo Part’s “Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten” for strings and a solitary bell. Despite a rather indistinct start, this grew in strength, the players sustaining strongly their final fortissisimo. Traill is the most meticulous of conductors, and his control of the slow crescendo and hypnotic pulse was first rate.

In Haydn’s “London” Symphony Number 104, he coaxed some finely shaped lines from his wind players in an unfashionably slow Andante and maintained the architecture by retaining all of the composer’s repeats. The players were at their best when Traill’s enjoyment was evident, and the finale was sparkling.

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