Sunday, May 10, 2009


Chelmsford Cathedral



How did they manage at Her Majesty's ? Cirrus, opening this year's Chelmsford Sinfonietta Festival, boasts three of the leading string players from The Phantom of the Opera.

They began a superb evening's chamber music with another theatre piece, the Sextet from Strauss's Capriccio. An exquisite interpretation, with a truly magical moment when Rolf Wilson's violin brought them  back into the opening melody.

Schubert's masterwork, his String Quintet in C, began with a bold, extrovert statement, before the more intimate,  conversational tone. The Adagio hung poignantly in the still air of the Cathedral; the Allegretto finale, often dance-like, with a joyful sprint to the finishing tape, was dark elsewhere, perhaps  reflecting the painful end to the composer's life.

No such tragic undercurrents in Tchaikovsky's Souvenirs de Florence, but  sunlight and blossom, romance and warmth, with a gloriously full-bodied folkish finale. [click  play below to hear the closing moments, from a Cirrus CD recorded last year ...]


O Duo

They're made of rosewood and cherry, they roll up to go in bags to go in the back of the van. And they can cope with anything from Bach to Brubeck. The marimbas were just part of the arsenal of instruments deployed by O Duo, Oliver Cox and Owen Gunnell, in a stage spectacular that was fast-paced and a delight from start [Bongo Fury] to finish [Minute Waltz, a fun-packed 85-second encore]

The Ravel and the Bach – three movements from a French Suite which showed off the dynamic range of the instruments – transferred more successfully than the Chopin, perhaps, but Take Five was brilliantly done, with Oli as three members of the quintet, Owen taking the tune on vibraphone, and three  young recruits keeping the beat.

The climax of the show was Minoru Miki's Marimba Spiritual, with shouting and plenty of sound and fury as the marimba battled it out with the drums.

These two young men are outstanding ambassadors for music and the joy it can bring. In the afternoon, they gave a workshop for 300 schoolchildren, and after the show, though they must have been exhausted, still found time to answer questions and give more children a hands-on taste of percussion.

Chelmsford Sinfonietta with Tim Carey

Mendelssohn weekend, and the last concert, sponsored by Hill and Abbott, included two of his works inspired by visits to Scotland.

The Hebrides Overture was given a taut performance, marked by sinewy grace, with impressive energy and excitement from brass and winds. A lyrical clarinet depicted the calm before the electrifying storm near the end of this deservedly popular piece.

His Third Symphony, which ended the evening, began with some cohesive string playing, before the spirited, ultimately tempestuous Allegro. The Scherzo could perhaps have been a little crisper, though there's no denying its infectious rustic vivacity. After the powerful dignity of the Adagio, the stirring, restless finale demonstrated the full power of this excellent orchestra.

Let's be honest, this is not an ensemble that plays seasons, has residencies, or tours the Far East. Though there are many friends, and friends of friends, it remains an ad hoc band. All credit then, to conductor David Gibson and to these forty consummate professionals, for producing performances worthy of any concert hall.

Tim Carey, the Artistic Director of this Festival, was the soloist in Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. It was a precise, but never pedantic, interpretation, expressive but never dominating. He brought a lovely lyricism to the virtuosic cadenza, embracing the orchestra as it crept back in, just before the triumphant close of the first movement. A powerfully subtle Largo was followed by a fresh Rondo, with a sparkling lightness of touch matched by bright orchestral colours.

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