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photo of Diana Ambache by Sasha Gusov

Vive la musique des femmes!

By Brian Hunt

London Evening Standard, 17 May 2002

Mozart's Symphony No. 34 opened in a blaze of C major that felt gloriously right. The size of the orchestra and the scale of 18th century rhetoric fitted perfectly the nurturing acoustics of St John's. Moreover, the sections of this orchestra have a personality that has been diluted out of so many other ensembles: pungent oboes, crisp trumpets, aristocratic horns.

By playing without a conductor, the Ambache cultivate other positive qualities. Sound that has not been forced out at the point of a stick has a wonderful freedom. Leader Andrew Watkinson superbly coordinated the communication of eye contact and body language in the first movement of the symphony, but later passages suggested that, without imposed discipline, self-imposed discipline has to be paramount. The more the players appeared to enjoy themselves, the looser articulation became - though there was compensating exuberance.

The ensemble's founder, pianist Diana Ambache, is a vigorous campaigner for female composers. The ballet score Le Marchand d'Oiseaux by Germaine Tailleferre proved how necessary such lobbying is. Tailleferre (1892-1983) was part of the Parisian group Les Six and thus more prominent than most female composers, but the fact that this exhilarating neo-Classical piece was receiving its UK premiere demonstrates how easily women's music can be erased from history. This was dashing music, dashingly played.

Ambache joined the orchestra as soloist in a riveting performance of Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto K466. The grave beauty of her tone and intellectual clarity of her music-making were set against an orchestral backdrop as dramatic as a night sky torn by lightning.

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