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Review – Tim Orpen and John Reid at Octagon Music Society – two of the brightest young stars of the country's musical scene

Octagon Music Society, Tony Bramley-Harker

Of all the individual instruments of the orchestra, it’s probably the clarinet which exhibits the widest range of musical expression – played fortissimo, it can pierce through any surrounding textures, played pianissimo, it can vanish into the faintest whisper: at the top of it’s range, it can be bright, sunny, almost hysterical, yet in the lowest register, the sound can be haunting, threatening, or ineffably sad. So a concert of clarinet and piano music can cover not only the whole sound spectrum but also the widest range of emotional intensity.

Sunday afternoon’s concert at The Clarendon Muse brought two of the brightest young stars of the country’s musical scene in Tim Orpen and John Reid. Tim is currently principal clarinet of the Royal Northern Sinfonia centred at The Sage in Gateshead, and also holds the same position in the Aurora Orchestra, one of London’s cutting edge groups. John Reid is also a member of the Aurora and is one of the most in-demand and versatile of pianists. Their programme for OMS was therefore a superb showcase for two much praised musicians and also an opportunity to hear works from the core of the clarinet repertoire.

Gerald Finzi’s Five Bagatelles were written during the dark days of the Second World War when Finzi was living at Ashmansworth near Newbury, As well as undertaking war service he was the creator of the Newbury String Orchestra with which he gave concerts in the local area and which provided respite from the rigours of war. A deeply sensitive and driven man, in the Bagatelles he pours out sunny and attractive music; they are not of great difficulty and often appear as young clarinettists’ testpieces – there were a number of clarinettists, young and old, in our audience who must have felt both envious and encouraged by Tim’s easy mastery. The beginning of the Prelude came at us as a blast of sheer exuberance, whilst the Romance which followed was poignant and appealing. These were an indication of the extraordinarily varied contrasts which Tim could summon. Tim spoke later of the ‘autumnal’ mood in the Brahms sonata which he later played – by contrast, the Finzi exuded a spring-like freshness and clarity which matched the afternoon outside.

Tim then played Three Pieces for solo clarinet by Stravinsky. These bore evidence of Stravinsky’s  interest in the latest developments in popular music and jazz. For Tim, they provided more opportunity to respond to a wide variety of tonal and dynamic, as well as technical, demands. Written as a gift to a patron and amateur clarinettist, they were ingeniously crafted miniatures, a far cry from the frenzy of The Rite of Spring.

John Reid returned, and together they played Schumann’s Three Fantasiestucke. If there was a theme running through their programme, it was centred on the German Romantic tradition with its love of fantasy and nature as seen by the literary world. This was High Romantic music to which Tim and John responded  with warmth.

The one extended piece of the afternoon was Brahms Second Sonata. Written in the last decade of his life,and after he appeared to have put down his pen in favour of retirement, Brahms became inspired to write once more by the playing of a German orchestral clarinettist, Richard Muhlfeld. Brahms wrote these two sonatas as well as other chamber music works under the renewed inspiration Muhlfeld gave him. All three movements are suffused with a lyricism and sense of longing – there doesn’t seem to be any word more appropriate than Tim’s ‘autumnal’. In this work, above all, the music calls for a sensitivity and rapport which showed Tim and John to be ideal partners and  musicians. John Reid, as OMS audiences will remember from a wonderful collaboration with violinist Thomas Gould some years ago, is a pianist who can match Tim for variety of colour. Their duetting in the third, variation, movement was of such unanimity that you could scarcely tell which instrument was playing as they tossed phrases from one to the other; it made for an extraordinarily moving performance. The piano part throughout calls for considerable virtuosity as well as attention to balance which John, ever sensitive, was always able to provide.

To allow Tim to recover from Brahms’ demands, and to prepare for his assault on The Carnival of Venice, John then played three more Schumann miniatures, from Forest Scenes, a return to the woods, atmospheric and brooding.

Alamiro Giampieri is one of those composers who is known, if at all, for just one piece – in this case, his variations on a trivial popular tune. It’s one of those high wire showpieces which make exorbitant demands on the player but reward him with little musical substance. Yet, in Tim’s hands, it was impossible not to marvel at the cascade of notes which he produced. Double stopping? the ear could almost believe it. Chords? Surely! High fun for all – oh! except poor John who accompanied dutifully, Sancho Panza to Don Quixote.

Although the musical content of the concert did not stray far from the standard repertoire, Tim and John gave the audience a highly satisfying afternoon of varied delights. They each introduced the works they were playing and talked with insight and easy humour. Both are musicians of much achievement and even greater promise: a large and appreciative audience will certainly remember their names.

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Ravishing solo [from] Timothy Orpen

Evening Standard, Barry Millington

Special mention has to go to … principal clarinettist Timothy Orpen

The Edinburgh Reporter, David Lewis

Special mention should go to principal clarinet Timothy Orpen

Opera Wire, Benjamin Poore

Deliciously played

The Arts Desk, Boyd Tonkin

Lovely solo playing

The Herald, Keith Bruce

Stunning solo

The Times, Richard Morrison

Colourful, propulsive and quick as lightning

The Times, Geoff Brown

Big turnout of young and old for Royal Northern Sinfonia's new season opener at Sage

Newcastle Chronicle, David Whetstone

'A blazing talent' he certainly is …

Stratford Herald, Peter Buckroyd

[..the Sacconi Quartet] were joined by Timothy Orpen for a lovely work premiered in 2014, Ian Venables’s Canzonetta for Clarinet and String Quartet Op 44. This beautifully shaped piece, characterised throughout by typically English falling phrases, featured Orpen’s gorgeous rich clarinet sound. Listening to this piece it was easy to understand why the Times described Orpen as a ‘blazing talent’.

A more intimate Sage Gateshead concert sees Schubert’s Octet on top form

Newcastle Chronicle 

Schubert’s Octet, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Sage Gateshead

Timothy Orpen delivered a sassy and raucous portrait of the German trickster

Chicago Classical Review, Lawrence A. Johnson

“Much of the instrumental writing [Strauss Till Eulenspiegel—einmal anders, arr. Hasenöhrl] is just as tortuous as in the original version, yet held no fears for the Academy musicians who served up a bravura and characterful reading. Clarinetist Timothy Orpen delivered a sassy and raucous portrait of the German trickster, with equally colorful playing by hornist Stephen Stirling and violinist Keller.”

Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble exceeds high expectations

The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis

“The Academy of St. Martin the Fields lived up to every definition of its name here Tuesday.

Like any good group or institution of higher learning, the ensemble drawn from the legendary London-based orchestra showed a Plymouth Church full of Cleveland Chamber Music Society patrons exactly how it’s done.

Bausor, Orpen and Reid revelled in dazzling exchanges, providing perfect palate cleanser – Royal Northern Sinfonia’s chamber concert series

The Argus, Gavin Engelbrecht

“The winds were given chance to shine in Andre Caplet’s Piano Quintet, with flautist Juliette Bausor, oboist Steven Hudson, clarinettist Timothy Orpen and bassoonist Stephen Reay each given their say. The winds entwined sinuously in the slow movement, while generating sumptuous colours in the passionate chorale. The ensemble negotiated the finale at a blistering pace.”

“Florent Schmitt’s Sonatine en trio for flute, clarinet and piano features four short contrasting movements. Bausor, Orpen and Reid revelled in dazzling exchanges, providing perfect palate cleanser before Faure’s meaty Piano Quartet.”

Lars Vogt, Royal Northern Sinfonia’s incoming music director..

The Journal, Rob Barnes

“Lars Vogt, Royal Northern Sinfonia’s incoming music director, talked, played and conducted his way into the hearts of his new North East audience in a concert designed to showcase both his world-class skill as a pianist and the more recent expansion of his talents into conducting.

The hottest dude on the block

The Arts Desk, Geoff Brown

“Luckily, Orpen’s next appearance gave him room to show off skills other than simple agility. In Bartók’s Contrasts for clarinet, violin, and piano, he was the hottest dude on the block, hips wiggling, colours constantly morphing in a part originally written for jazz master Benny Goodman.”

Soloist Timothy Orpen was in full command during his performance of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto

Westmorland Gazette, Brian Paynes

“The temperature was considerably raised by a performance of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto. Timothy Orpen, in full command of the soloist’s widely-ranging technical and emotional demands, was partnered in exhilarating fashion by a conductor-less sinfonia, dispatching the jazz-inspired textures with great aplomb.”

Orpen displayed dazzling dexterity

The Northern Echo, Gavin Engelbrecht

Royal Northern Sinfonia’s latest concert at Sage Gateshead was directed by violinist Kyra Humphreys, who opened proceedings with a magnificently moulded rendition of Barber’s Adagio for Strings …….

When not playing his clarinet, Timothy Orpen enjoys mountain climbing, having scaled peaks of 6000m in the Himalayas and Bolivian Andes. His latest onstage challenge saw him taking on one of the pinnacles for his instrument in the shape of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.

Royal Northern Sinfonia musicians do justice to the contrasting works of two famous American composers

The Journal, Rob Barnes

Fans of American composers Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland must be in clover, with their music featuring in two concerts here within five days.
This time it was the turn of Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings and Copland’s less well-known Clarinet Concerto

RNS spotlight on chamber music by composers from the British Isles

The Northern Echo, Gavin Engelbrecht

ROYAL Northern Sinfonia’s latest chamber concert at Sage Gateshead placed the spotlight on music by composers from the British isles written in the early 20th century.

Beautifully Judged

Bachtrack, Penny Homer

“In Appalachian Spring the [Aurora] orchestra dawned beautifully, before launching into lively reels, impassioned addresses and rich lush chorales. Timothy Orpen’s opening of the variations on Simple Gifts was beautifully judged, and the orchestra followed him in invoking pastoral scenes before closing the concert with a beautiful sunset.”

Sheer Beauty

The Arts Desk, David Nice
“the sheer beauty of Timothy Orpen’s cornerstone clarinet solos” (Aurora orchestra)

The sound-world of the basset clarinet, used here to gorgeous effect

Dorset Echo, Mike Marsh

“MELODIC Magic, the BSO’s title for this first concert under its new collaboration with Classic FM, is spot on.

Jamie Crick, replete with electronic notepad-bringing a touch of 21st century modernity to what was a lovely, old-fashioned concert- provided the informative introductions.

Mozart, among the greatest masters of melody, clearly understood the sound-world of the basset clarinet, used here to gorgeous effect by soloist Timothy Orpen.

The Clarinet Concerto is among the best-loved and Orpen’s performance was the epitome of suave, lucidity; producing a rich lower register and distinctive tonal values.

Where the first movement was cheerfully flowing, the contrasting Adagio brought a liquid beauty to its romantic core.

His articulate finale engaged the operatic character and witty infusions with a real sense of joy.”

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra – Mozart Concerto

 Portsmouth News,  Mike Allen

“Timothy Orpen proved himself a musician with a big future as soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. The adagio ‘sang’ like an operatic aria and the outer movements brimmed with a blend of technical virtuosity and varied expressiveness.”

Back To Top 19/10/2021