DVOŘÁK Symphony No 9 SIBELIUS Finlandia
Chineke!’s motto is ‘Championing change and celebrating diversity in classical music’. Its orchestra, made up of young Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) musicians from across Europe, is the brainchild of the indefatigable Chi chi Nwanoku, usually spotted powering the double bass section of the OAE. It’s a terrific initiative and the foundation hopes to run a full season of performances in time.
It can be no accident that the main work on this debut disc is Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, From the New World, Fin Conway’s booklet note making much of the composer’s supposed use of Native American and African American melodies. As director of the National Conservatory in New York, Dvořák wrote: ‘I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies … they are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.’ However, Dvořák never claimed that he employed any traditional melodies in his Ninth, but that ‘I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music’. He considered the Scherzo could depict the feast scene in Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha, which he considered setting to music at one point. There are glorious wide-open spaces in Dvořák’s music but whether these are directly inspired by America or by pining for his Bohemian homeland is a moot point.
After ponderous opening cello phrases, Kevin John Edusei conducts a fresh, lively account, full of sunshine. Ensemble is impressive, given the orchestral players have little experience playing as a unit. In the Largo, the brass don’t have the glowering darkness older orchestras provide but Titus Underwood’s cor anglais solo unfolds with natural tenderness and poise. Edusei keeps the Scherzo bubbling along nicely before a speedy, exuberant finale. This isn’t a performance to hold up against a Kubelík or an Ančerl favourite recording but that would be to miss the point. This is a bold statement of intent from an exciting ensemble. It would be great to hear Chineke! champion composers such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
The performance was recorded at the Royal Festival Hall, though any hint of enthusiastic between-movement applause (I read there was lots) has been excised. The disc is short measure but opens with a rousing Finlandia to set a celebratory mood.