Change of Perspective

MIKE WHEELER reviews Sinfonia Viva's streamed performance from Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, UK


You have to admire the programming subtlety that pairs Haydn at his wildest with Peter Warlock at his most level-headed. (More on this later.)

This is the first of three streamed events from Sinfonia Viva, recorded in different locations around Derbyshire. It features Sophie Rosa and Ruth Heney, violins, Richard Muncey, viola and Deirdre Bencsik, cello, in a recital filmed in the Chapel at Chatsworth House. Sophie Rosa introduces each item and, in between, Dr Alex Hodby, Curator of Exhibitions and Engagement, describes aspects of the building, including the house's musical life, as reflected in the north wing's musicians' gallery and ballroom, and the artwork in the Chapel.

The programme begins with Purcell's Chacony in G minor, in the edition by Benjamin Britten. The players explore the music's poignancy as well as its rhythmic vigour, giving it a gentle ending.

Venice-born composer, violinist and singer Maddalena Lombardini-Sirmen (1745–1818) was acclaimed in her lifetime throughout Europe; Leopold Mozart described one of her concertos as 'beautifully written'. She published a set of six string quartets in 1769, when Haydn was only up to his Op 9. Like all but one of her set, No 4 in B flat is in just two movements. In the first, the players relish its expressive details and its often unexpected changes of direction. In the Minuet they maintain a balance between robustness and elegance that suggests affinities with Haydn.

Sinfonia Viva String Quartet at Chatsworth

And that takes us to the odd change of perspective I mentioned at the start. Haydn's Quartet in D minor, Op 76 No 2, nicknamed 'Fifths' from the first movement's all-pervading melodic figure, is one of his darkest. The players give this quality full rein, without unbalancing the music's classical manners. They find darkness, too, in the second movement, even in the major-key sections. So it is no surprise that in the so-called 'Witches' Minuet', wildness is uppermost, throwing into relief the first violin's high-wire skitterings in the trio section. This is Haydn with mud on his boots. But while the finale starts in a state of subdued tension, the players allow his urbanity to have the last word.

After that, their gently gliding way with 'Pieds-en-l'air', the penultimate movement of Warlock's Capriol Suite, leaves him sounding like the soul of elegant sobriety. Nothing wrong with having your expectations turned on their head occasionally.

Copyright © 16 March 2021 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK




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