Sinfonia Viva is undertaking a five-concert season in Derby, running until next March. The first of the series coincided with the return to Derby Cathedral of Luke Jerram's Museum of the Moon, a seven-metre-wide globe featuring NASA imagery of the Moon's surface, internally lit, and suspended over the cathedral nave. Even though Holst's The Planets, which ended the evening, is only superficially about the solar system, Jerram's installation felt entirely appropriate - Derby, UK, 18 October 2023.
Obviously, it suited Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as well, opening the concert in a one-to-a-part unconducted performance, crisp and elegant - brisk in the first movement, both gracious and wistful in the second. The Minuet had the right tone of robust courtliness, with the trio almost becoming a waltz. The finale bounced along at a lively but not breakneck speed.
Olivia Clarke was the conductor for the rest of the programme, and she and the orchestra were joined by soprano Nadine Benjamin in a radiant, beguiling account of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs. The players set up a strong current enabling Benjamin to soar in 'Frühling', and convey a moist-eyed acceptance of the changing seasons in 'September', even suggesting a hopeful looking-forward to the next spring. David Tollington's horn solo at the end breathed complete serenity.
Benjamin added a few theatrical touches of her own, turning anxiously towards leader Benedict Holland during his touching solo in 'Beim Schlafengehen', as though looking for reassurance. And in the utter tranquility of 'Im Abendrot', her face lit up at the appearance of the two larks at the end, gently impersonated, in James Leger's effective scoring for chamber orchestra, by Rachel Holt, flute and Chris Swann. Maddy Aldis-Evans, cor anglais, and Alex Mitchell, viola, brought real warmth to the climactic quotation from Strauss's Tod und Verklärung.
Leger's version in no way sounded impoverished compared to the original. Neither did George Morton's similar take on The Planets, after the interval. 'Mars' was less crushing juggernaut, more seething menace and panic, while 'Venus' projected a kind of active tranquility. 'Mercury' scampered along puckishly, the instrumental and harmonic colours shifting as readily as in the original scoring. 'Jupiter' was the complete party animal - rumbustious, full of gusto, and there was nothing solemn about the big tune. The trudging sadness of 'Saturn' was steered inexorably to a panicky climax, finally achieving a tranquility that unexpectedly echoed the end of the Strauss. 'Uranus' was all bumbling hops and skips, until the sudden withdrawal at the end, every bit as strange as in the original. The sense of concentrated meditation in 'Neptune' was palpable. Past and present Derby Cathedral girl choristers, at floor level, behind the orchestra, made their entry in the wordless choral part as discreetly as possible, with beautifully focused tone throughout. In the concluding fade-out they simply filed out to each side of the building (invisibly from where I was sitting), to magical effect.
Copyright © 26 October 2023