Lively hoedown opens the 2019-20 season

Royal Northern Sinfonia Concert
Westmorland Hall, Saturday 5 October 2019

The Royal Northern Sinfonia opened the Lakeland Sinfonia’s new season of concerts with an all American programme. Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and Philip Glass were the three composers represented in this enterprising concert. The cleverly–devised programme  included two well-known works and two substantial works probably less well known.

Copland’s delightful ballet suite ‘Appalachian Spring’ opened the programme in one of several arrangements the composer made for just thirteen instruments: strings two-to-a part, piano and a single flute, clarinet and bassoon. The work came to light in the hands of the Sinfonia’s assistant conductor, Karin Hendrickson; the gentle opening, with its clarinet solo, beautifully played by Pierluigi Capezzuto created an atmosphere of calm before the lively hoedown played with great panache by strings and piano.

After the Copland the rest of the string section joined their colleagues for Samuel Barber’s beautiful Adagio for Strings. This was a very controlled performance with rich tone and well-judged dynamics ranging from a beautiful pianissimo sound to fortissimo at the sonorous climax.

Barber’s ‘Capricorn Concerto’ revealed a very different side to the composer. When a composer becomes widely known by one work, it is easy for programme planners to overlook other pieces which deserve a hearing. This concerto, written for solo flute, oboe and trumpet with strings, looks back to an earlier style, the 18th century concerto grosso when a group of solo instruments are pitted against a string orchestra. With its jaunty rhythms and persistent driving rhythms the influence of Bach seemed to be present, and also Stravinsky.

After the interval came Philip Glass’ second violin concerto, ‘The American Four Seasons’. The title came from a request from a prominent American violinist to write a work as a companion piece for Vivaldi’s famous ‘Four Seasons’. According to the composer, all four seasons are represented in the work but listeners are not given the programme: each member of an audience must find his/her own interpretation.

To include this concerto in the programme was a bold move. Glass is known in technical terms as a ‘minimalist’: his music unfolds leisurely, not developing musical ideas but by repeating (endlessly some would say!) chordal progressions, melodic and rhythmic phrases. To some his music is boring: to enthusiasts of minimalism, it can be hypnotic. Orchestral leader, Kyra Humphreys, played the work superbly. Her warm tone and seemingly effortless technique drew warm applause from the audience.

The quality of the playing throughout the evening was further reminder of how fortunate we are to receive regular visits from such a fine orchestra. They are due to return to Kendal in early November (Saturday 9th) with Julian Rachlin at the helm and a programme of Prokofiev and Mozart.

(c) Clive Walkley 8th October 2019