Chineke! Chamber Ensemble © Ryan Buchanan
Chineke! Chamber Ensemble © Ryan Buchanan

Chineke!’s Display of Youthful Exuberance

Title:
Edinburgh International Festival: Chineke! chamber ensemble

Dates:
16 Aug 2021 –
Venue:
Old College Quad
University of Edinburgh
South Bridge
Edinburgh
Edinburgh & the Lothians
EH8 9YL

This ensemble is drawn from the principal players in the international Chineke! orchestra, which provides opportunities for Black, Asian and ethnically diverse classical musicians from across Europe. And what a thrilling array of extraordinary talent. The group’s choices of very early works by Vaughan Williams and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor might seem a tad eccentric, but the connection here is youthful exuberance which the performers displayed in spades. 

First-off, Williams’ Piano Quintet in C minor burst into life with some rousing, angular chord stabs dispersing into a cascade of fluttering bass notes which scampered around the string quartet before settling into some warm, expressive melodies. The pace was frantic, intense and uplifting, highlighting Williams’ exploration of the heftier parts of the orchestra, drawing soaring melodies out of instruments usually associated with supporting roles. The second movement flew to the opposite end of the spectrum, bringing lyrical, dreamy flourishes and testing the lead violinist’s familiarity with highest parts of her fingerboard.

Chineke! Chamber Ensemble © Ryan Buchanan
Chineke! Chamber Ensemble © Ryan Buchanan

Part 2 of the recital saw the arrival of a wind section for Coleridge-Taylor’s Nonet in F minor, created while the composer was still a student. Channelling their inner Brahms, the group ramped up the drama, revealing the expressive properties of the deepest, darkest notes while balancing light and romanticism in the form of sparkling solos and ornate piano flourishes. 

Chineke!’s creator Chi-chi Nwanoku oversaw proceedings from centre-stage, cajoling, bowing and tugging at her double bass with an instinctive grasp of intonation and fluidity, clearly revelling in the ensemble’s performance. A spirited 4th movement climax saw the bass become almost a lead instrument, pushing and directing the group toward its vibrant and colourful finale. 

A bravura performance brimming with oomph and vitality which energised an eager crowd to demand three curtain calls.

With thanks to Malcolm McGonigle for this review.

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