Review: Thomas Nickell and the Orchestra of the Swan at Lichfield Cathedral

Two top drawer musical attractions played for an appreciative audience when the young pianist Thomas Nickell and the acclaimed Orchestra of the Swan appeared at Lichfield Cathedral.

Playing music from the more populist end of the classical music spectrum, with music by the American composers Aaron Copland and George Gershwin in the first half, and Dvorak’s New World Symphony in the second, this was music of the brightest colours, and most ear-catching of tunes.

The Orchestra of the Swan got things rolling with four dance episodes from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo. The four movements are familiar from any number of adaptations to cowboy and indian films, the wide expansiveness of the music bringing to mind the American West as better shown in any John Ford film, while the best-known part, Hoedown, with its fleet Xylophone part and enthusiastic playing from all members of the orchestra, showed just how joyous and buoyant this music is.

Thomas Nickell is only 18 years old, but already has a phenomenal control of the piano and an ever increasing reputation as a player’s player and composer. He joined the orchestra for a reading of one of George Gershwin’s better known pieces, Rhapsody in Blue. From the opening, technically demanding clarinet part, to the fleet piano playing, this was music making of the highest calibre.

The piano playing was well integrated into the whole, with elements of jazz improvisation woven into the more planned orchestral movements. The well written string and wind instruments parts, and some finely controlled percussion added to the sense of both drama and fun that this most iconic of pieces engenders

Closing the night was Symphony No.9 From the New World in E Minor, opus 95 by Dvorak. Although known to many people for its use in the Hovis Bread adverts, this deceptively simple piece still has moments of startling beauty and pathos, from the main theme, here carried by the cor-anglais, to the horn parts that open the piece and the gently haunting moments of stillness.

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