Saturday 16th February 2019 6:30/7:30pm

Happy Birthday – Venezuelan Style

Lakeland Sinfonia Concert Review
Saturday 16 February

The Scottish Ensemble made a deep impression when they visited Kendal for the 6th concert in the current Lakeland Sinfonia season. Their immaculate and stylish playing immediately captured the audience’s attention. The ensemble is made up of 12 string players who champion music for strings, crossing genres, styles and periods. They play under the direction of their dynamic leader and artist director, Jonathan Morton.

Their spirited performance of Mozart’s early Divertimento in D, K.136 (written when the composer was only 16) was a model of a Mozartian performance: elegant, stylish, colourful and subtly phrased.

The Mozart was followed by Bach’s wonderful Ricercar à 6 from the ‘Musical Offering’, a collection of keyboard pieces based on a theme suggested to Bach by Frederick the Great. Inner communication and group awareness is the key to a successful performance of this tour de force of contrapuntal composition; and as the main theme was passed from player to player this was fully demonstrated. The limited use of vibrato resulted in clear textures and impeccable intonation; the purity of the sound was not dissimilar to that produced by a consort of viols.

Solo pianist, Gabriela Montero, then joined the ensemble for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14. Sadly, the wonderful interplay of woodwind, strings and piano which is such a feature of Mozart’s later piano concertos was missing in this performance, where the customary wind instruments were absent. There were issues of balance with the piano, the lid fully open, tending to dominate. However, when the moment came for the soloist to perform a cadenza, Gabriela Montero’s skill as an improviser led to a dazzling display of virtuosity. Following the concerto, she demonstrated her remarkable talent for improvisation as – being her husband’s birthday she informed us – she launched into an elaborate five-minute improvisation on ‘Happy Birthday to You’, soon to be followed a further improvisation on a theme suggested by a member of the audience.

Gabriela returned to the stage after the interval for a performance of her own work Babel, written in 2018. The work has a political agenda, what she termed in her programme note ‘the hijacking and collapse of Venezuela’, the place of her birth. As in so much contemporary music, colour and texture seemed to dominate: moments of calm were interspersed with moments of fury.

Shostakovich’s turbulent Chamber Symphony, a re-working for string ensemble of his tenth string quartet, brought the concert to a close, again with fine playing from this excellent ensemble.

Clive Walkley