Emma Johnson and Lakeland Sinfonia excel!

At the time of the Lakeland Sinfonia’s recent concert we were enjoying the early days of spring and much of the orchestra’s programme was bright, cheerful and optimistic. There were two items, however, that provoked a darker mood, a mood mirrored in the Westmorland Hall’s stage décor, where most of the vertical surfaces are draped with Bible-black material and, because the players were dressed in formal black, the image was decidedly funereal!

Perhaps this dark mood was at the back of our minds as we listened to George Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow and Elgar’s Sospiri (Sighs). Both works – products of their time (the Great War) – received controlled, disciplined performances. Butterworth’s English pastoral imagery and Elgar’s bleaker, more sorrowful, regretful thoughts were sensitively portrayed by the Sinfonia under the assured direction of Philip Ellis.

The black theme was momentarily pursued as the evening’s soloist appeared – dressed principally in black! Emma Johnson, one of our leading clarinettists, has graced famous stages around the world and for our enjoyment she brought Weber’s 2nd Clarinet Concerto. Black, funereal impressions were immediately banished as she embarked upon a buoyant, masterful journey through Weber’s graphic piece. With the widest of dynamic ranges, the most extensive palettes of colour and an awe-inspiring virtuosity in the composer’s characteristic passages, she inspired the Sinfonia’s redoubtable players to levels of performance that could only have been achieved by dint of hard personal practice and well-organised rehearsals.

Paul Read’s melodious Suite The Victorian Kitchen Garden found the orchestra’s strings and harpist combining in a quiet and gentle partnership with Emma Johnson, now arrayed in a white gown embellished with golden motifs (spring had sprung!).

Haydn’s final symphony (No. 104) saw the Sinfonia in continuing good form. Despite very occasional untidiness and imbalance (the need for greater tonal depth in the cello/bass department), we heard an incisiveness, a delicacy of phrase, a sparkle and clear articulation, and saw animation in the players’ body language.