‘….. there was no doubt that a new and exciting musical season in Cambridge had truly begun.‘
Sinfonia of Cambridge’s opening concert of the season offered an evening of Russian favourites, unashamed crowd pleasers but works of huge depth, searing beauty and towering tragedy. The first piece, perhaps the least known, was ‘Autumn’ from ‘The Seasons’ by Glazunov. It was clear that conductor Howard Williams relished the chance to set West Road Concert Hall ablaze (musically speaking of course). He set a breathless pace for this melodiously festive piece – more Mediterranean than Moscow in its rich orchestral colours allowing the players of this fine Cambridge band to show off their considerable talents. The richness of their sound was particularly noticeable in Glazunov’s lusciously lovely adagio contrasting the opening revelry with an achingly nostalgic theme. The Sinfonia certainly did its best to find new fans for this joyous piece.
Though much more than a curtain raiser, the Glazunov was followed by one of the great works of the classical repertoire: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. The young soloist, Stephanie Childress, a Cambridge graduate with an already formidable CV, strode on to the stage clearly ready to enjoy herself. That she clearly did as from her opening passage to the triumphant end; she gave a fiery and muscular account of this great work. She was superbly supported by the orchestra which has much more than an accompanying role. Every section sounded wonderful but especial praise goes to the hard-worked woodwind and brass sections which also came into their own in the final work of the concert, the fifth symphony of Shostakovitch.
First performed in 1937 and subtitled ‘A Soviet artist’s creative reply to just criticism’, the piece was supposed to be an emollient response to Stalin’s angry condemnation of Shostakovitch’s previous work (an opera) for failing to ‘infect the masses’. If the cruel dictator was expecting something shallow and triumphalist, then the symphony must have served as a subtle poke in the eye. The huge work takes us from dark menace to sunlit triumph but the musical cards are firmly stacked on the former mood. The Sinfonia was in top form – from the chilling and brooding eight-note motif on the lower strings to the almost deafening grand finale. In between was the famous grotesque march in which the large percussion section excelled and the tragic slow movement with its creative interplay of instruments such as the harp and strings, celeste and bassoon. With the final bars almost lifting off the roof of West Road Concert Hall, there was no doubt that a new and exciting musical season in Cambridge had truly begun.
MIKE LEVY ‘Cambridge Critique’ www.thecambridgecritique.com
14th October 2018
‘Cambridge Sinfonia lifted the January gloom with a majestic programme of great music…………their delight in playing this masterwork shone through……….’
Cambridge Sinfonia lifted the January gloom with a majestic programme of great music at the West Road Concert Hall.
A packed audience was partially explained by the mass of red blazers and lots of children. These were the choir of St John’s College School Chamber Choir who packed the upper gallery for a spot of delightful ballet music. Choirs and ballet don’t always go together, but here the children were singing the wordless melodies of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes’.
Preceded by the ever-popular March from The Nutcracker, the Russian master’s wonderful evocation of cascading snow fairly lifted the spirits. …………………. the youngsters provided just the right concoction of ethereal music-off and juvenile charm and with Howard Williams’ precise baton the whole thing got the evening off to great start.
Next up was a perennial favourite of this and any other concert crowd – Elgar’s Cello Concerto. This restless, edgy work suffused with noble tragedy (it was written at the end of World War I) was given a stunningly muscular rendition by British cellist, Loy Lisney. She is one of those soloist who not only plays the work but lives it.
In the great opening movement (with its famous grandiose and heartbreaking melody) her cello soared about the accompanying band – particularly strong in brass and woodwind sections. Her face told the story the work: like a great tragedian, her expressions altered with the shifting moods of this great piece; from a kind of stoic grieving in the opening bars, to playful delight in the allegro molto movement.
This last was played at such a breathless lick that one felt the soloist and instrument were about to take off in a jetstream of furious bowing. Hers was a big, bold and rich sound. One always associates this work with the late great Jacqueline du Pres and there was something in Lisney’s passion for the work that made one think of her.
After the success of the Elgar, the orchestra settled into the next big work – Dvorak’s ‘New World’ symphony. Always voted one of the top three symphonies in the classical pantheon, it is a piece that never disappoints. The Sinfonia was up to the challenge of its manifold great melodies including, yes I must mention it, the ‘Hovis’ ad tune.
Top marks here for some lovely cor anglais playing and terrific back up from the rest of the wind and brass sections. As the symphony progressed through its four mighty movements, the players grew in confidence and their delight in playing this masterwork shone through the very back row.
Mike Levy localsecrets.com Saturday 20 Jan 2018 Click here to see the full review. Subscription required.
‘Sinfonia of Cambridge does Schubert UK Premiere
Wonderful start to their new season with fresh sounds’
Sinfonia of Cambridge got off to a wonderful start to their new season with three beefy and challenging pieces including a UK premiere of a new Schubert orchestration that worked a treat.
Conducted by internationally renowned maestro Howard Williams, the Schubert premiere – actually a recently completed orchestration of his famous string quartet known as ‘Death and the Maiden’ – was very cleverly constructed by conductor Andras Vass – a former colleague of Williams……….
……….While there was a definite loss in the intimacy of the original, the Vass version and the assured playing by the orchestra felt like we were hearing this music for the first time. The trombones and horns (plus a very effective woodwind section) gave the four movements a sense of high drama without ever going over the top. ……… Given that this score must have been totally new to the players, they made an excellent fist of bringing it all together.
The concert had opened with Prometheus Overture by Beethoven. Beginning with a great orchestral outburst, the overture rapidly lightens and the success of the piece depends on the orchestra getting the right balance of light and shade. Williams drew a big meaty sound from the band with all sections playing well and listening intently to each other. It was an exciting curtain raiser.
The one work after the interval was a biggie. Brahms’ First Piano Concerto is a huge beast – more symphony with piano than traditional concerto. At 45 minutes, it is one of the longest of the genre but soloist Marie-Noelle Kendall made every note count and with excellent support, the whole work seemed to fly by. The strongly dramatic opening made one’s hair stand on end and the piano entry confirmed that this was going to be an equally strong reading full of high drama and beauty. Though the soloist played from a score, it didn’t seem to detract from her interpretation……. Kendall and the orchestra gave a suitably gorgeous rendition of Brahms’ lovely and melodious slow movement and the dance-like finale generated a huge amount of musical energy.
You can never accuse Cambridge’s many excellent orchestras of being timid in their choice of programme.
Mike Levy localsecrets.com Saturday 07 Oct 2017
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‘In the Britten, Miriam Kramer had a beautiful tone which oozed over the stage in a virtuosic solo with impressive tessitura passages. The concerto was outstanding and very well received.’
The Sibelius is a celebration of Finnish national identity, and the woodwind section’s strong solo playing was accordingly glorifying. Tight percussion marched the ensemble along in a jaunty fashion. ………… the effect was very convincing overall.
In the Britten, Miriam Kramer’s violin had a beautiful tone, oozing over the stage in a virtuosic solo with impressive high tessitura passages. Kramer put everything into the darker, faster sections with conductor Christopher Adey extracting great energy from the orchestra. His baton-less style had less of the metronomic exactitude of others, enabling him to shape the sound like clay. The concerto was outstanding and was very well received.
Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is obsessed with the past, and the neoclassical Schubertian swells and nods to Beethoven were understood well by the orchestra. …………
Laurie Kent of THE TAB OF CAMBRIDGE January 2011