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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Finlandia, Op. 26 (1899/1900) [7:50]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, “From the New World” (1893) [41:39]
Chineke!/Kevin John Edusei
rec. (live?) September 4, 2016, Royal Festival Hall, London

I mentioned this disc in my review of the Cheneke! Prom this year. Yes, it is short measure, not even passing the 50-minute mark, but it gives a terrific indication of this young and talented orchestra, a flagship of BME (Black, Minority, Ethnic) enterprise. The recording date given, plus the fact that Chineke! gave a concert at the RFH on that date which included these pieces implies that what is presented here is those performances, but possibly with some edits post-concert; none of this is explicitly stated on the disc documentation as far as I could see.

The Sibelius Finlandia is given a terrific, rip-roaring performance. The joy of the later sections is infectious, the strings’ upwardly mobile phrases positively inspirational, as if clamouring for the heights. The Festival Hall has a reputation as a difficult recording venue, but Tim Oldham and Andrew Mellor have captured the orchestral sound excellently.

The Dvořák first movement includes the exposition repeat; a delight, as one gets to experience the spring freshness-mixed-with-drama of Chineke!’s reading again. Detail is expertly managed by Edusei; it is the sheer youthful verve of the performance that maintains both momentum and argument in the first movement. The famous Largo impresses in its variety, most notably perhaps the gossamer, delicate strings. A full listing of orchestra personnel in the booklet enables the excellent cor anglais player to be identified as Titus Underwood. No doubting that this movement is the clear highlight of the disc: unhackneyed, despite its popularity – as fresh as the day it was composed. The contrast from the tenderness of the Largo to the brightly toned, impeccably sprung Scherzo is visceral indeed; again, inner detailing is little short of exemplary. Oboes and clarinets chase each other deliciously; elsewhere, there are volcanic surges of energy. The finale is a whirligig of youthful energy; what might be a relatively simple woodwind gesture in many orchestras’ hands in the first couple of minutes dances infectiously here. Clarinet solos melt into our consciousness (Mariam Adam). Only occasionally one feels that the upper strings could do with a touch more rounded timbre, and then only on the third or fourth listening. The first time round, certainly, one is dragged headlong into the drama of it all. For Edusei and his players, this music is all about story-telling. Detail is everything: listen to the bassoon part in the passages preceding the wonderfully raw horn solo, the latter passage brilliantly given by Chineke! principal horn Pierre Buizer.

A remarkable testament to a remarkable orchestra. A pity about the “empty” time (we’re not too much over half the available time for a compact disc) but no doubt whatsoever that if you can experience these performances, you should.

Colin Clarke



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