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Capturing the Essence

MIKE WHEELER returns to the Buxton Festival
to hear members of Sinfonia Viva


In making his potted version of Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel (potted in terms of both duration and scoring), one-time leader of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Franz Hasenörl contributed a real gem to the chamber music repertoire. Scored for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin and double bass, it captures the essence of Strauss' witty tone-poem with remarkable imaginative flair. The performance by members of Sinfonia Viva, directed by leader Benedict Holland (Palace Hotel, Buxton, Derbyshire, UK, 20 July 2007), had both panache and charm, with just the final flourish lacking the last ounce of devil-may-care recklessness.

Ann Murray joined the group, together with three more string players, for another classic in a reduced instrumentation, Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. The intense concentration that informed this performance was evident right from the start. The quieter passages were especially impressive, the central section of the first song and the transition to the final verse of the last being particularly memorable. The freshness of the second song was beautifully captured by both singer and players, and there was no lack of gutsy emotion in the anguished third number, although Ann Murray's tone was inclined to become squally at full throttle. But she gave the more inward moments real impact, riveting our attention at the end of the last song simply by the mesmerising way she coloured the final words.

Andreas Tarkman's chamber scoring, first heard in 1998, is for the same ensemble as Schubert's Octet, which occupied the second half in an invigoratingly pacy but unrushed performance. The first movement was spirited, with some finely judged variety of tension. There was a nicely-flowing tempo in the clarinet-led second movement, and plenty of rhythmic bounce in the third, while the minuet had just the right degree of wistfulness. The main part of the finale was propelled with considerably energy, and a sense of living dangerously in the more virtuoso passages. The dramatic return of the opening of the finale at the movement's climax was perfectly scaled -- no more, no less.

One other nice touch -- horn player Mark Smith was using a valveless instrument. This enabled us to hear the stopped notes that Schubert would no doubt have calculated for (filing in what would otherwise be gaps in the horn's range) and allowed the instrument to play out without threatening the overall balance.

Copyright © 25 July 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK






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