Sinfonia Viva plays Judith Weir,
heard by MIKE WHEELER
Sinfonia Viva is currently commissioning a series of short pieces from ten different composers. So far we have had works from Uri Caine, Nico Muhly and Damon Albarn, all of them, as conductor André de Ridder commented in his spoken introduction (Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 24 November 2009), fast and busy. Trust Judith Weir to buck the trend. With still, glowing she has come up with four minutes of quiet, gentle magic, as each harmony shades imperceptibly into the next, and the predominantly string scoring is subtly coloured by woodwind and percussion. It was played with breathtaking finesse.
The overture to Mozart's Don Giovanni opened the concert, in a performance that struck an ideal balance between menace and comic-opera liveliness.
Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu was the soloist in an invigorating performance of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. Her first entry, forceful without being aggressive, marked one point on a range of touch that also took in moments of great warmth and tenderness. There was an intensely inward feel to the second movement, with the bassoon and flute duet sounding particularly serene, and the third movement had tremendous wit and drive. And I don't think I've ever heard the first movement cadenza being made to sound so integral to the music's argument.
Following a fresh and invigorating account of the opening movement of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony we had a rare opportunity to hear his second thoughts regarding the last three movements. Recently published by Bärenreiter in an edition by Christopher Hogwood, the 1834 version is full of interesting modifications to the original -- a fresh twist of harmony here, a tweak to the melodic line there, changes to the rhythm elsewhere. I was not convinced that everything was an improvement; there were occasions when the revision sounded more like unpolished first thoughts. But there were no reservations regarding the performance, with neatness and precision balancing suppleness and fleet-footed ebullience to eloquent effect.
Back in April the Royal Concert Hall followed a concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with a late-night extra from jazz pianist Sam Hogarth. Out of this the hall is developing a new After Hours series of short additional concerts, in which audiences can explore some new and recent repertoire in a relaxed, informal atmosphere.
In the first one, Sinfonia Viva performed another piece of magic, taking the third movement, 'Loops and Verses', from John Adams' Shaker Loops and moving seamlessly from the final bars into 'Winter' from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. A stroke of brilliant imagination, it felt like the most natural thing in the world. Viva's leader, Benedict Holland, was the incisive soloist in the Vivaldi, and the orchestra's playing sounded just as fresh as it had all evening. And though I wasn't able to stay for the whole of Philip Glass's Third Symphony, I may at last have discovered a piece of his that I can respond to positively.
Copyright © 7 December 2009