A hot summer evening on Iffley Road, the polychrome colours of the escutcheoned ceiling, the carved reredos and the elaborately-set stations of the cross in the Late-Victorian Gothic interior of St. John the Evangelist seeming to shimmer in the sultry air. Conductor Janet Lince had obviously put a lot of thought into constructing a well-balanced programme and the sequence worked cannily, the two centrepiece adagios alternating with more upbeat pieces, even extending to dances.
Where so often conductor and orchestra shoehorn in just one rehearsal, here Ms Lince told me they (19 women and just 3 men, plus male organist fleetingly heard) had managed two 3 hour-long sessions and the extra time together showed to advantage, with director and players proceeding cohesively across the changes in mood and rhythm.
The pieces by Peter Warlock (a.k.a. Philip Heseltine), firmly in the pastoral English tradition of Delius, made a surprisingly conventional beginning given Warlock's riotous life and associations with witchcraft and occultism (and now I find he was the father of Brian Sewell!). Carl Nielsen's Suite for Strings was graced by vivacious playing from the 1st violin section - whose energy was an exemplary asset all evening and beat the path for the violently-throbbing Three Pieces in Old Style by Gorecki which have an importance beyond their immediate content in that they served as a catalyst for the coalescence of the composer's mature style.
Ms Lince solved the problem posed by Albinoni's Adagio in the first half, ie how to spur new life into an old war horse, by taking it at a good lick. I don't know why this is usually paced as for an East End funeral, matching grey horses and all, but here it was a meditation rather than a dirge, and much the better for it, though I thought the organ sounded a bit asthmatic. Barber's matching heart-on-sleeve Adagio, a staple for memorial services to the great and the good and for film music in cases where the tinkling piano and strumming solo guitar are temporarily judged insufficiently poignant, was adorned by high-coloured, insinuating solo interventions by guest leader Emily Davis. The plush orchestral sonorities and long, winding lines were kept aloft like balloons drifting up towards the roof in the humid Oxford air.