The phrase ‘eagerly-awaited’ is much over-used, but with the absence of live orchestral music in Kendal for 18 months, I’m sure on this occasion it rings true. What a fine concert the Royal Northern Sinfonia gave us on Saturday16 October! Given the present anxieties over the Covid pandemic, perhaps it is not surprising that there were a number of empty seats in the hall but this did not diminish the welcome given to the players as they came onto the platform, and the appreciation shown at the end of the concert.
The orchestra’s new conductor, Dinis Sousa, drew some inspirational playing from the orchestra. All three works on the programme, Haydn’s ‘Surprise’ Symphony, Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’ and Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 are all, of course, standard repertoire for any professional orchestra and for this reason can be given what may be termed ‘run of the mill’ performances, but what we heard on Saturday certainly did not fall into this category. From the start, it was obvious that great attention had been paid to phrasing and one of the highlights of the concert was just that. Dinis Sousa is a flamboyant conductor but his balletic gestures were not made in vain. He communicated to his players exactly what he wanted and among the many instances of carefully-nuanced phrasing throughout the evening was the opening of the slow movement of Symphony no. 40 when the strings opening was so subtly shaped.
Two other features stood out: Firstly, the Haydn and Mozart works positively fizzled with energy. This came partly through the brisk speed adopted in the allegro movements but also through the players’ reaction to the conductor’s gestures. Secondly, the wonderful pianissimo sound he drew from the strings. The sustained chord accompanying the solo violin near the beginning of ‘The Lark Ascending’, for example, was so beautifully controlled and exactly at the right level to support the soloist’s cadenza at this point.
The orchestra’s new leader, Maria Włoszczowska is a very dynamic figure. How daunting it must be for anyone appointed to succeed Bradley Creswick, who led the RNS for over 25 years, to feel at home in the orchestra and to make their own mark but she certainly did, providing strong leadership when playing as sectional leader and demonstrating a high level of competence as soloist. Her beautiful tone, interpretation and technical command of the demanding solo line in a much-loved work held the audience spellbound.
The concert was a much-needed tonic in these gloomy times and set a standard that will be hard to surpass for any future visiting ensemble. Let us hope that it marks a return to normal for the Lakeland Sinfonia! As always, our thanks must go to the hard-working committee who together share the responsibility for arranging a concert programme that brings such pleasure to so many.
Clive Walkley, 18th October 2021