Prom 1: Spectacular Walton makes for a confident start to the 2015 season

Nielsen’s Maskarade Overture should have been the ideal way to launch the 2015 BBC Proms. In the festival’s 120th year, one would expect that the first concert would begin with a bang. While the actual fireworks came after Gary Carpenter’s Dadaville, the musical fireworks were saved for the end.

Read the full review at Bachtrack.

Britten Sinfonia fails to impress at Milton Court

It seems odd that a concert based around Mozart should leave one cold. The pivotal figure of the Britten Sinfonia’s “Kaleidoscopes” concert is known for the humanity, warmth and charm of his music. In tribute, the ensemble presented a programme of Kurtág, Adams and Tavener, three composers for whom Mozart has been an important influence. With exception of the Kurtág though, the Britten Sinfonia’s performances seemed oddly passionless, leaving me frustrated.

Read my full review at Bachtrack.

Sinfonia d’Amici/Harry Ogg with Emily Ross at LSO St Luke’s – Twilight Works: world premiere of Josephine Stephenson’s Abend

The London-based student orchestra Sinfonia d’Amici here returned to LSO St Luke’s with a programme of “Twilight Works”: joyous pieces by composers nearing the end of their lives, offset with a premiere by Josephine Stephenson. An excellent performance of the Stephenson aside, the ensemble didn’t quite gel for much of the concert.

Read my full review at The Classical Source.

A celebration of strings: Mandolinist Avi Avital joins members of the Oxford Philomusica

Avi Avital
Oxford becomes much quieter outside of the university terms, and this was reflected in audience numbers for Saturday’s concert. Although the evening did not pan out as expected, those who were in the Sheldonian still came away having heard some brilliant performances.

Read my full review at Bachtrack.

Review: Bruckner and Mozart from the Oxford Philomusica

The level of anticipation for Saturday’s Oxford Philomusica concert was high, although not necessarily for the reasons you might expect: several minutes passed after tuning before the concertmaster emerged from the wings of Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre. Although the Sheldonian may be somewhat lacking acoustically, the building’s grandeur more than makes up for it. The main feature of the interior is undoubtedly Robert Streater’s painted ceiling (depicting “Truth descending upon the Arts and Sciences to expel Ignorance from the University”). Amid such impressive surroundings, the Oxford Philomusica had the potential for an unforgettable concert. Unfortunately, the orchestra seemed slightly disengaged from the music.

Read my full review at Bachtrack.

Review: Oxford University Sinfonietta perform Mozart, Pärt, Ligeti and Prokofiev

The Oxford University Sinfonietta made their name performing programmes which mix music from the early classical period with more contemporary works. Last night’s programme was no different: the warm D major of Mozart’s ‘Paris’ Symphony was followed by the harsh dissonance of Arvo Pärt’s Symphony No. 1, with some Ligeti and Prokofiev topping off the programme. It was in the contemporary repertoire that the ensemble (conducted by Ed Whitehead) would prove to be most comfortable.

Mozart’s ‘Paris’ Symphony opened the programme. The small size of the string section (including just 2 cellos and 1 double bass) proved a disadvantage: not only was there a lack of body at several points, but this led to an imbalance between the string and wind sections. The string playing was fairly ragged in several passages, with intonation and synchronisation slightly approximate in the scales in 3rds between first and second violins. Flautist Charles Troup’s playing in the second movement was of note, his mellifluous tone elevating the carefully shaped phrases. Although I felt that this movement lacked the larger-scale view which was required, Ed Whitehead’s interpretation was generally assured. The finale’s lightning speed captured the effervescent feel of Mozart’s writing (although this illuminated a few more technical flaws).

Arvo Pärt’s Symphony No. 1 was next on the programme, its unapologetic textures suiting the clarity of the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building. The opening brass dissonance was tight and confident, setting the bar high for a truly brilliant performance. Woodwind chatter was metronomic and strings gave the polyphonic writing a searing intensity. Whitehead’s precise baton set an unrelenting pace over which the counterpoint would unfold, handling the changes of time in the second movement decisively. Maintaining their ferociousness until the very end, the Sinfonietta’s account was truly gripping, and surely the highlight of the programme.

Ligeti’s Nouvelles Aventures opened the second half. Written for 3 singers and 7 instruments, the piece stretches the players to the max. The vocalists generally displayed good commitment, investing themselves in the theatrical elements. Ed Whitehead’s clarity of beat proved indispensable once again amidst the cacophony of nonsensical whoops and mutterings. The combination of performers was shuffled for Ramifications: 12 string players were divided into two groups, each tuned a quarter-tone apart. The hypnotic rhythms were gradually transfigured from the extraterrestrial muted sound of the start to a seething mass of criss-crossing lines. The effect
was immersive, and the performance captured the increasing urgency of the dense texture well.

The last piece on the programme was Prokofiev’s neo-classical Symphony No. 1. This 1917 work is an exercise in the style of Haydn, albeit one injected with cheeky asides, erratic rhythms and unexpected harmonic diversions. The Sinfonietta’s playing was incisive, bringing out Prokofiev’s playful approach to the conventions of Haydn’s style. This was the piece where Ed Whitehead seemed most at home, setting a vivacious speed which elucidated the elements of dance from the first movement. However, the tempo chosen for the fourth movement was a touch too fast and teetered on the edge of control. Luckily, the Sinfonietta clung on by their finger-tips, and the result was a visceral and exciting whirlwind of a finale.

Despite some under-rehearsed Mozart, the rest of the programme showed the Oxford University Sinfonietta to be an ensemble capable of great things. A formidable programme of contemporary music was tackled with great verve, and they rose admirably to the challenge.

An eclectic evening: a look at Oxford University Sinfonietta’s programme

With just a fortnight left of Oxford term, I’ve been looking through the concerts yet to come. One programme which I’m particularly looking forward to is that of the Oxford University Sinfonietta (29th November, Jacqueline Du Pré Music Building). This chamber orchestra typically blends music from the early classical period with more contemporary compositions, and this concert is no exception. Ranging from Mozart to Ligeti (with Prokofiev and Pärt for good measure), the eclectic programme promises an exciting evening.

Read the full article here.