Flower arrangements, thirteen music stands, three chairs (and a piano in the background) were the only signs that a concert was shortly to take place in the Westmorland Hall. To the knowledgeable devotees amongst the assembling Lakeland Sinfonia Concert Society’s audience this was normal: the European Union Chamber Orchestra was in town and most of its players perform whilst standing. Their programme was interesting and attractively varied: Sonata for Trumpet and Strings (Purcell), Two Elegaic Melodies (Grieg), Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings (Shostakovich), Serenade for Strings (Elgar) and Symphony No. 57 (Haydn). Three renowned musicians – Nikolai Demidenko (piano), David Blackadder (trumpet) and Hans-Peter Hofmann, their director, completed the evening’s resplendent cast.
The opening bars of Purcell’s Sonata convinced everybody that they were destined for a memorable experience. Throughout the evening Hofmann secured absolute clinical control and discipline over ensemble balance and phrase shaping; there was rhythmic pungency, drive and energy together with immaculate tonal blend at all dynamic levels. Technical dexterity was awe-inspiring. What was there to criticise? In short, precious little! Though perhaps the manicured, always restrained tone of the strings might not have been to everyone’s taste; maybe a little more brightness in the louder passages; maybe not quite so much emphasis on the quest for an extreme pianissimo? Peripheral matters, these – Grieg’s Two Melodies, Elgar’s Serenade and Haydn’s wonderfully coloured Symphony were all illuminated by the supreme musicianship and technical prowess of the remarkable EUCO.
So, too, was Shostakovich’s Concerto. What a crazy, quirky, kaleidoscopic, hugely-entertaining work this is! Demidenko’s dazzling pianism was ideally suited to its character. He possesses both power and lightness of touch, sublime lyricism, musical imagination, a total immersion in the work as a whole and an agreeable absence of visual flamboyance. Blackadder, although in secondo position, played his part superbly. As in the Purcell earlier, his contributions were invariably crisp and precise, his tone pure and bright. Everybody contributed magnificently to this extravagant display of fun!