ORCHESTRA North East didn’t need to look beyond its doorstep for quality guest musicians for its autumn programme at Durham and Newcastle: David Murray as conductor and Northern Sinfonia violinist Iona Brown, doubling as leader and soloist, fitted the bill nicely.
Vaughan Williams based his Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus on a folk tune known since the 1500s. But as the father of English pastoralism, he clothed it in the sort of lushly evocative arrangement a large orchestra like this simply revels in.
The same composer’s The Lark Ascending was written for Newcastle-born violinist Marie Hall in 1914. Iona Brown gave a sterling performance, her transparent tone weighing against nimble scale passages and making for beautifully balanced interplay with the orchestra.
County Durham composer Robert Smedley was there for the second performance of The Slipways from his suite Dunelmia (the World Premiere was at Durham Cathedral on Saturday).
The bell of a river buoy tolls through the dawn mist, painted in soft, held orchestral chords to introduce a timeless North East tale, that of shipbuilding on Wearside.
Hammers on steel, a strong brass presence and thundering timpani are what might be expected but they arise in a natural and convincing way from the musical material as Smedley depicts – with, you sense, a feeling of pride – the majesty and might of an industry that once lined our great rivers.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade came in a sumptuous reading, David Murray and the orchestra working from a rich palette of colours and flexing the tempo without losing sight of the main trajectory while the last word went, once again, to Iona Brown, the closing high violin note a reflection of The Lark.