Australia House, January 2017
MOZART Ch'io mi scordi di te? K 505
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488
GRAINGER Handel in the Strand
COPLAND Appalachian Spring
CONDUCTOR Toby Thatcher
PIANO Jayson Gillham
SOPRANO Alexandra Oomens
By Lloyd Coleman
Ensemble Eroica, under the tireless leadership of its founder and Principal Conductor Toby Thatcher, is fast building a reputation as one of London’s most exciting orchestras for young professional musicians.
In their recent outing at the Australian High Commission, Toby’s infectious enthusiasm was on full display – both during his eloquent introductions and during the music itself. His feet left the floor more than once as he inspired playing of real verve and vigour.
Three of Toby’s fellow Australians joined as soloists for the evening. Soprano Alexandra Oomens opened with a beautifully tender account of Mozart’s Ch’io mi scordi di te? with pianist Joseph Havlat.
Jayson Gillham then took over the keyboard to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 in A major. From the opening bars, Jayson gently swayed his head in time with the music (listening closely to the orchestral passages with his eyes closed) and from his first entry he played with clarity and total conviction. He treated us to a light-hearted encore too, in the form of Percy Grainger’s outrageously boisterous Handel in the Strand.
The concert closed with Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring ballet suite. Here, Toby and Ensemble Eroica evoked the vast American vistas with plaintive, sustained strings and a peppering of gorgeous wind solos.
Kings Place, March 2016
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 19
BEETHOVEN Beethoven Symphony No. 2
BERG Seven Early Songs
CONDUCTOR Karin Hendrickson
PIANO Leslie Howard
SOPRANO Nika Goric PIANO Chad Vindin
By Barry Millington, Chief Music Critic Evening Standard
The Ensemble Eroica under Karin Hendrickson delivered Beethoven's Second Symphony with style and panache. The playing of these accomplished young musicians was precisely articulated but at the same time radiated a sense of sheer joy in music-making.
Kings Place, February 2016
SCHOENBERG Chamber Symphony No. 1
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5
CONDUCTOR Toby Thatcher
VIOLIN Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay
By Samuel Peter, CutCommon
In 1810, Elizabeth Brentano wrote a letter to her friend, writer and statesman Johann Goethe. In it, she attributed the following quote to Beethoven: ‘Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy, it is the wine of a new procreation, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for men and makes them drunk with the spirit’.
It is this quote from which Ensemble Eroica’s first of three concerts at London’s Kings Place takes its title. It’s a strong quote – romantic and egotistical, commanding yet flowery. Interestingly, when Elizabeth later showed Beethoven this quote, his response was: ‘Did I say that? Well, then I had a raptus!’. I suppose some embellishment is to be expected when one keeps company with 19th Century romanticists.
Similar ostentation was thankfully not in display during the pre-concert talk by conductor Toby Thatcher. Forgoing program notes in lieu of an opening address, Toby introduced the healthily filled auditorium to this evening’s collection of politically motivated works. Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 2 reflected the composer’s later-life implementation of a more tonally influenced language following his relocation to Hollywood, eschewing the atonal extremes he pioneered some 30 years before. The Eroica Symphony meanwhile, reflected the changing political environment of the 19th Century; Beethoven famously removed the initial planned dedication of the work to Napoleon on receiving the news that Napoleon had crowned himself emperor, a piece of history which sadly tends to overshadow just how challenging to this symphony was to the musical conventions of the time. Mozart’s Violin Concerto in A major was not discussed.
Toby wrapped up the pre-concert talk by acknowledging that Ensemble Eroica is a youth ensemble, and such a concession proved completely unnecessary. Ensemble Eroica’s performance was indistinguishable from that of a seasoned professional ensemble. Part of this is no doubt due to the calibre of the performers, consisting largely of students from the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music. However, certainly much of the credit is due to Toby Thatcher, a passionate on-stage figure, whose realisations of the repertoire are distinctly unique.
Ensemble Eroica navigated the Schoenberg with skill and precision, blending perfectly to realise the composer’s intricately orchestrated counterpoint before being joined on-stage by violinist Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay for Mozart’s Violin Concerto in A major. With darting eyes, a furrowed brow and a more than occasional lunge towards the string section, Visontay trod the fine line between energetic and distracting. Seeing Visontay so physically embody the lightness of the music added a unique dimension and energised an otherwise familiar piece. Nonetheless, it was the sort of performance that one could only get away with in a work by Mozart.
Ensemble Eroica closed the evening with its namesake, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. True to form, the performance was polished and professional, with Toby showing the necessary restraint to reign in the wilder moments to carry a satisfying impact in the final movement.
And yet, it’s difficult to know what to make of the program on offer. Ensemble Eroica has enough polish and style to rival many seasoned professional outfits. However, without any real sense of vision or coherent thematic connection between pieces, the program leaves one wondering what this concert was trying to achieve. Mozart’s Concerto in A major is a popular work and arguably Mozart’s most enjoyed violin concerto. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 is hardly wanting for performances. Unfortunately, this familiarity was not forgiving and the combination on display here didn’t help to shed new light or perspective on this well trodden ground. The art of program selection is a finicky practice. Success is highly subjective, but ultimately a program has to be a reflection of the conductor’s identification with the world of musical history. Much like Beethoven’s attributed quote, Glorious Wine was entertaining but lacked authenticity. Ensemble Eroica has an incredible amount of style and polish. What is needed now is depth.
Having said that, considering the sheer volume of talent on display, spearheaded by an engaging and enthusiastic conductor, one cannot overstate the achievement of Glorious Wine. The ensemble stands out as one of the most impressive new ventures for young musicians, and with two more performances at Kings Place, and another in St Martin in the Fields scheduled for this year, they can only go from strength to strength.
St James' Church Sussex Gardens, January 2015
HAYDN Symphony No. 102
RAVEL Tombeau de Couperin
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4
CONDUCTOR Toby Thatcher
By Leslie Howard
'The young conductor Toby Thatcher is the founding director of Ensemble Eroica, and their concert together at St James' Church, Sussex Gardens (London W2) on 31st January (2015) was a thoroughly exhilarating affair.
Thatcher has only just turned 26, and he must be viewed as one of his generation's most promising artists. The thought-provoking programme required no allowance for youth or inexperience, so clear, straightforward and honest were his musical intentions and directions.
Ravel's suite Le tombeau de Couperin is a marvellous showcase for the expertise of virtually every instrument in the band, and Thatcher allowed all the enormous talents of his enthusiastic players to shine through, whilst he kept the whole performance in a nice balance of tidy form and Gallic charm. The Ravel was framed by what are certainly candidates for the two best symphonies in B flat major for a classical orchestra: Haydn's 102nd and Beethoven's 4th. The Haydn was handled with proper degrees of wit and seriousness - Haydn never wrote a more touching slow movement, with the icing on the cake in the shape of a solo cello, here played winsomely by young Swedish cellist Lydia Hillerudh - and the infectious amusement of the finale brought smiles all round. Beethoven's 4th is a work that never ceases to amaze, and it was given a top-drawer performance by a truly inspired conductor and a totally galvanised orchestra. The audience was in turn moved by the simple eloquence of the introduction and the slow movement, and on the edge of its collective chair at the splendid rhythmic impetus of everything else, never more so than in the breathtaking technical marvels that Thatcher coaxed from his players in their stunning account of the finale. An ensemble of which to be proud and a young conductor of quite exceptional musicianship.'