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Sinfonia Viva begins its Mendelssohn celebrations,


Sinfonia Viva started its Mendelssohn centenary celebrations with a concert book-ended by one of his least familiar orchestral works, and one of his most popular (Assembly Rooms, Derby, UK, 27 January 2009).

In Symphony No 1 the outer movements were full of fresh, pent-up energy, and there was some graceful woodwind playing in the second movement. Driving vigour in the scherzo enclosed the central trio section's mesmerising stillness, with the orchestra moving impressively from one to the other with no perceptible change of pulse.

Antje Weithaas. Photo © Marco Borggreve
Antje Weithaas. Photo © Marco Borggreve

Antje Weithaas was the soloist in what was probably the most engaging performance of the E minor Violin Concerto I think I've ever heard. Her interaction with the orchestra was as much of a delight as her actual playing -- impeccable technique informed by controlled spontaneity. The second movement was unaffected and straightforward, and all the better for it.

Viva is currently commissioning a series of three-minute works from various composers. Nico Muhly's Eager Music, no 2 in the series, received its world première. Built on different rhythmic layers, it is packed full of ideas, including a fugal-type passage for strings (a subtle link with the Mendelssohn symphony). There were echoes of John Adams and Michael Torke, but Muhly is his own man, and just when you thought you had the measure of where the piece was going it managed to slip away somewhere else.

In Schoenberg's 1st Chamber Symphony conductor André de Ridder took a more relaxed, less hell-for-leather approach than some performances I've heard. The performance brought clarity to the music's knotty textures, and the quiet lyrical moments positively glowed, though the important chain-of-fourths horn call that punctuates the work sometimes did not quite make its presence felt sufficiently.

Copyright © 7 February 2009 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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