Tantalising Appeal

MIKE WHEELER listens to the strings of Sinfonia Viva


Following Sinfonia Viva's chamber-music concert a couple of weeks ago, a body of string players returned to Derby's temporary Market Place venue for a programme mixed in style but with a discernable folk music thread – Derby, UK, 21 October 2021. This was most obvious in the opener, Bartók's Romanian Dances, based on fiddle tunes he collected. The first two were taken at a steady tempo; leader Sophie Rosa gave the third dance's high-lying violin solo an aptly fragile-sounding character; nuances of dynamics in No 4 were nicely shaded, and the quick final two dances had real bite.

Philip Herbert composed his Elegy in memory of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence. In this quietly reflective piece, he consciously adopted an English pastoral style as a way of asking questions about, in his words, 'what it takes to be a British citizen'. I heard clear echoes of Gerald Finzi; there was no sense of pastiche, but they clearly underlined Herbert's intentions, and the piece received a warmly sympathetic reading.

Four Seasons in Buenos Aires is Astor Piazzolla's answer to Vivaldi, with sly, and not-so-sly quotations embedded in his characteristically tango-steeped language. Sinfonia Viva chose to begin with Summer, with slides and hard pizzicatos giving an edge to the performance. Autumn featured a richly-toned solo from principal cellist Deirdre Benscik. Winter, with its slower and more song-like opening, gave Sophie Rosa a corresponding opportunity. The music often seemed to be on the point of turning into something else which never quite arrives, which is perhaps part of its tantalising appeal. The quiet ending was nicely done. In Spring, the faster music had zest, and there was a nicely tongue-in-cheek feel to the most overt of the Vivaldi references, with which it ends.

A lithe, affectionate account of Tchaikovsky's Serenade followed the interval. Some may have regretted that the venue's acoustic was not more resonant, but I actually enjoyed being able to hear all the details of the often intricate scoring.

The strings of Sinfonia Viva playing Tchaikovsky on 21 October 2021 in Derby
The strings of Sinfonia Viva playing Tchaikovsky on 21 October 2021 in Derby

In the first movement, the players combined lightness and a sense of purpose, and they brought both swing and elegance to the second movement Waltz. In the Elegy, the violin decorations over the viola theme was a particularly ear-catching moment, and theme's quiet final statement was spellbinding, with a poignant close. The finale had drive and energy, and the big reveal – when Tchaikovsky turns the reprise of the first movement's introduction into the finale's main theme – brought a smile of real satisfaction.

Copyright © 8 November 2021 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK








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