Sunday, May 11, 2008


Chelmsford Cathedral


Beethoven's sprightly Seventh Symphony made a fine finale to the first ever Chelmsford Sinfonietta Festival. The orchestra, under its regular conductor Robin Browning, and led by Suzanne Loze, began with great delicacy, though the drive and the urgency in the writing were always present. The Allegretto began almost like a quartet – the string playing was a great strength of the whole programme – building to a monumental climax, and the martial trumpets and tympani of the closing Allegro brought the evening to a glorious conclusion.

After a sure-footed, impeccably paced Mozart Symphony, Craig Ogden was the soloist in the Rodrigo Guitar Concerto. An inspired choice for a sultry evening, this familiar work came across as fresh, almost improvised, with beautiful playing from Ogden and the strings, now whispering, now dazzling, and Chris O'Neal's limpid cor anglais in the famous Adagio. Before signing CDs in the interval, the soloist left us with an exquisite arrangement of Django Reinhardt's Nuages.

Craig Ogden was also prominent in the London Tango Quintet, who launched the Festival with a feast of Piazzolla, including the three-part Angel pieces. It was a lovely, rich sound, with ad hoc percussion from the five players, who also took turns in the spotlight with a showpiece solo. So Ogden gave us a Vivaldi Concerto, enterprisingly accompanied by the other four, with a delicious slow movement followed by a sprint to the finish. Tim Carey, whose baby this Festival was, played Liszt, double bass Tony Hougham a movement from a Bottesini concerto, violinist David Juritz the exciting rough magic of Ravel's Tzigane. Milos Milivojevic, whose accordion playing was crucial to the success of the evening, amazed us with a Mendelssohn Chorale Prelude.

Tim Carey was joined by duet partner Martin Sanders-Hewett for Friday's concert, which included Bach arranged by Myra Hess, Debussy's passionate, desolate En Blanc et Noir, the exuberant Scaramouche, and a typically witty and inventive Grainger arrangement of music from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. After this brilliant, and no doubt exhausting, exploration of the repertoire, they managed a delightful encore: a couple of numbers from Richard Rodney Bennett's Four Piece Suite.

A very promising first Festival. The word on the Cathedral Lawns was that there should be another. I would certainly support it. A winning combination of this great little orchestra – just the right forces for the Beethoven in this venue – a manageable [and affordable] three nights of music, and the glorious architecture and acoustic of our Cathedral. Sponsors take note – Hill and Abbott, regular supporters of the old Cathedral Festival, were alone this year.

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