Julian Bliss, Nicholas Kok and
Sinfonia Viva in Nottingham,
enjoyed by MIKE WHEELER
Sinfonia Viva has a happy knack of coming up with some refreshingly inventive programming, and this one (Djanogly Recital Hall, Nottingham University, Nottingham, UK, 27 September 2007) was particularly attractive. The Copland first half began with Appalachian Spring in the original thirteen-instrument scoring (though not the full-length version, which I hope they'll give us sometime). With Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas Kok at the helm, the players balanced the meditative and the folksy to excellent effect, with the hoe-down-like dance music incisive and buoyant.
Julian Bliss joined the orchestra for Copland's Clarinet Concerto, projecting both the wistfulness of the opening and the punchy rhythms of the second movement. One questionable interpretative decision: by swinging the rhythm of the 'slap bass' theme right from its first appearance he removed the contrast with those places where Copland specifically asks for it. The final section had tremendous driving energy and the clarinet's final three-octave smear was as exuberant as you could want. Even a break caused by a momentary power failure couldn't derail the performance's overall impetus.
After the interval, Julian Bliss was joined by Nicholas Kok, piano, Dan Storer, bass, and Charlie Ashbey, drums, as he let his love of improvisation loose on three jazz standards, Cole Porter's Let's Do It, Jerome Kern's Can't help loving that man, and Richard Rodgers' The Lady is a Tramp. The results were enjoyable, even though there was a slight feeling of 'best behaviour' about them, without that last ounce of risk-taking that full-time jazz musicians instinctively bring to this material.
Finally Julian Bliss and Nicholas Kok were the soloists in the first performance of Kok's own 7th degree, a jazz-inflected piece written with Bliss's playing in mind, and with improvised passages for both clarinet and piano. Scored for strings, piano and drums, it played with our expectations by switching back and forth between gentle lyricism and punchy vigour. A snatch of the hymn tune Gonfalon Royal even popped up at one point (no doubt an echo of Kok's early days as an organ scholar), arriving without warning and leaving without explanation. Typical of the music's processes was the way a strange, haunting bitonal episode for two violas morphed into a relaxed jazz waltz. A very effective piece which I trust we haven't heard the last of.
Copyright © 6 October 2007
Mike Wheeler, Derby UK
NICHOLAS KOK'S LAST CONCERT AS PRINCIPAL CONDUCTOR OF SINFONIA VIVA