Posted tagged ‘Vivaldi’

Southbank Sinfonia (twice)

March 14, 2008

sbs2.jpg The Southbank Sinfonia is a brilliant idea – a ‘semi-professional’ orchestra employing young instrumentalists between college and a professional career.  To judge by their list of alumni now in orchestral positions, it works.

The orchestra is the brainchild of conductor Simon Over.  It has no state funding (surprise surprise!) and is maintained by a large roster of generous supporters and huge amounts of goodwill, particularly through partnerships with ‘grown up’ orchestras such as the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, who provide coaching, playing opportunities and ‘sit-ins’ alongside professional players.  And imaginative sponsors like accompanist Malcolm Martineau who provides free refreshments at concerts – hooray!

Monday’s concert was part of the lunchtime recital series at the Royal Opera House, though moved into the spacious (and echoey) surroundings of the Paul Hamlyn Hall (formerly the Floral Hall).  A slightly rum programme…

It began with a Vivaldi Concerto for Two Trumpets, bravely performed without a conductor.  The soloists (Christopher Seddon and Rob Wallace) were two cool dudes to whom evidently nothing was a problem – they enjoyed every minute and played faultlessly, stationing themselves antiphonally either side of the band.

Two quibbles:  how could anyone think it’s OK to perform any kind of baroque concerto without a keyboard continuo??  Just because it ‘sort of’ works to have just a cello and bass accompanying the soloists, that doesn’t make it right.  And no, the slow movement is not just ‘a mere six bars long… a passage of modulation played by the strings alone’ – which is how they played it, earnestly and meaninglessly:  no, it’s the basis for something – keyboard improvisation?  Violin improvisation?  (Probably not the trumpets, as they need the rest.)  Something has to happen, and somebody has to take a decision about what.  Awful sinking feeling that STILL nobody in the music colleges is taught anything beyond the received nineteenth-century ways of playing things.

They need to read a certain series of helpful books…

The orchestra was joined by Australian soprano Anita Watson, a rising star in the ROH’s firmament and a radiant smiling presence (I previously enjoyed hearing her in Donizetti’s Rita – read more here).  Her choice of arias – Mozart’s ‘Nehmt meinen Dank’ and the ‘Et incarnatus’ from the C minor Mass, and Richard Strauss’s ‘Morgen’ – suited her to perfection.  Lovely violin solo in the Strauss, from leader Tatiana Byesheva.

In between Anita Watson’s items, Graham Sheen conducted his arrangement of five Danzas Gitanas by Joaquin Turina.  The rather vague programme note did not describe the individual movements or even tell us what forces Graham had arranged them for.  As far as I could see, it was a wind decet (flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns) with extras – piccolo, cor anglais – plus two trumpets and a double bass.  Smashing arrangements, full of vivid colours and rhythmic life.  I slightly felt that the clarinets had a raw deal – perhaps because the trumpets had grabbed their share of the melodic interest?  Very nice anyway, and must have been great fun to play.  I hope they’ll be published.

And a definitely rum item to finish – Manuel de Falla’s Seven Spanish Popular Songs, but with no singer!  Hamlet without the Prince?  I am reliably informed that it was never intended that Anita Watson should sing these.  But they sounded distinctly ‘so-what’-ish in their orchestral guise.  Ah well.

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Then yesterday (Thursday) – (more…)

The Cannons Scholars; Piano 4 Hands

October 29, 2007

Original plan for this weekend was a quintet gig in Somerset, which got cancelled for some reason or other.  So nothing in the diary, until (a) an e-mail from a friend saying ‘come to our concert on Saturday night’, and (b) another friend asking if I was going to Blackheath Halls’ Sunday morning offering?  (Thanks, Sue and Gillian).  So now I have two nice concerts to write about!

The Cannons Scholars is an ad-hoc-ish young and jolly band playing baroque music on modern instruments, under the direction of John Andrews.  Saturday’s programme was Vivaldi’s Gloria and Handel’s ‘Dettingen’ Te Deum, which on paper looked like altogether too much triumphal D major;  in practice, both works had enough inventiveness and contrast to keep the interest engaged, especially in these bright and characterful performances.

Like anything John Andrews does, it seems, the performances were immaculately organised and presented (great little programme notes, by the way), immensely musical and very exciting.  (And I’m not just saying that because he’ll be reading this!  Hi, John.)  Yes, a very few ragged corners here and there.  But nobody’s perfect.

St Paul’s, Covent Garden, is a lovely venue:  cosy, welcoming, not too resonant, even quite good sight-lines.  And it’s right at the heart of Covent Garden (remember My Fair Lady?  It’s where Professor Higgins meets Eliza Doolittle), though on this occasion there wasn’t too much extraneous noise from buskers and street performers outside.  To me it always feels like being in someone’s sitting room, thanks to Inigo Jones’s simple domestic box shape, the decorated plaster ceiling, and the knick-knacks – sorry, monuments – around the walls.  (It is ‘The Actors’ Church’:  I was sitting alongside Terence Rattigan, Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin…)
 
The choir – the Minerva Consort, only a dozen strong – never sounded small, and made the rafters ring.  Some nice soloists too (good to see that soprano Amy Haworth was at Trinity, Cambridge, under Richard Marlow, same as me – but I guess I was there before she was born!).  An admiring word for Sue Treherne’s clarion oboe solos, and the fearless high trumpets of John Parker and his colleagues.

Listen out for Handel’s Semele in March 2008!

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This morning (after the extra hour in bed – hurrah) I rolled up at Blackheath Concert Halls for my free coffee and croissants, and was pleased to discover I could get a Musicians’ Union discount on my ticket…  The recital was by piano-duet team, Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa, trading as ‘PIANO 4 HANDS’.  Disappointingly small audience, but that meant I could sneak into a front-row seat.

The duo were a joy to watch.  (more…)