First published in the Guardian on 6 July, 2017
Dvorak: Symphony No 9; Sibelius: Finlandia
Chineke! Orchestra/Edusei (Signum)
Chineke! Orchestra doesn’t hang about. Just two years old, the BME ensemble debuts at the Proms next month (youngest ever orchestra to make it into the programme) and has just released is its first recording. The choice of repertoire is symbolic: themes in Dvorak’s New World Symphony were inspired by African American and Sioux Indian music, while Sibelius’s Finlandia became an anthem of small-nation identity struggle (including Biafra during its civil war). But the symbolism stops there because this playing stands for itself. Kevin John Edusei conducts –- neat, direct, with a fine sense of when to push and when to linger — and although the ensemble sound is still taking shape (these things take years to percolate) what is missing in depth and burnish is compensated for in care and dynamism, in the lissom quality of quiet passages, in the tasteful restraint that keeps Finlandia unsentimental and gives the Dvorak a taught, explosive energy.