Impressive Csanyi-Wills Premiere Inspired by George Herbert

06/04/2014

 Csanyi-Wills, Haydn, Mozart: Steffan Morris (cello), Welsh Sinfonia, Mark Eager (conductor). Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff. 5.4.2014 (PCG)

Mozart – Symphony No 29 in A, K201
Haydn – Cello Concerto No 1 in C
Csanyi-Wills   Illusions of this World (2014)
Haydn – Symphony No 45 in F sharp minor ‘Farewell’

The highlight of the first part of this concert was the performance by Steffan Morris of Haydn’s Cello Concerto only re-discovered in 1961. The soloist made an intriguing use of vibrato in his playing, applied sparingly but to good purpose – all the more effective when it was employed to produce subtle crescendo effects as at the start of the slow movement. I do not propose here to enter into the controversial minefield over the use of vibrato in pre-twentieth century music, except to note that composers clearly regarded it as a colouristic device to be brought into play at appropriate moments, and that I cannot imagine that Haydn would have objected to the manner in which Morris used it to bring light and shade to the music. At present, following the completion of his studies with Heinrich Schiff, Morris is studying conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music. One hopes however that this will not lead to his absence as a cellist from concert platforms, when he can continue to give us performances of this calibre.

The orchestra played well for Mark Eager, as indeed they did in the performance of Mozart’s Symphony No 29 after a momentarily shaky start. This was a crisply delivered reading, with well-blended and balanced sound. Mozart is recorded as having been thrilled by the sound of a string body containing forty violins; here, with a mere twenty per cent of that number, there was no lack of body in the resonant acoustic of the Doris Stoutzker Hall.

One might however have welcomed a few more strings to reinforce the sound in the first performance of Michael Csanyi-Wills’s Illusions of this world, a series of three movements based on the poetry of George Herbert depicting “life before birth, life itself and life after death.” This is a very considerable piece indeed, scored for the same forces as the other works in this programme (two oboes, two horns and strings). In the first movement the menacing double-bass line which opened the faster central section could have used another player or two, and some of the elaborately divided violin lines could also have benefited from some reinforcement; but the overall sound remained well balanced, and the music with its overtones of Moeran and Sibelius had plenty of atmosphere. In the final section of the movement the music gained a decidedly Straussian glow. The second movement had a positively Bartókian spectral quality at the beginning, before a glorious horn cantilena – shades of Sibelius again – opened up over thrashing string chords. The final movement also opened with a sense of chill, but soon expanded into luscious warmth like the burgeoning of spring and a string line in soaring triplets, before a return to the mood of the opening and another passionate (although rather shorter) climax followed by a peaceful coda. This is a major work, and I sincerely hope that it will not be too long before we have a chance to hear it again.

The programme concluded with a performance of Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, conducted by Eager in lively fashion with plenty of character in the playing. Some fallible horn notes may perhaps have been the result of the instrumentalists becoming tired, since they had sounded excellent earlier in the evening. In the final movement the gradual exit of the players from the stage (following the practice Haydn adopted at the first performance) was nicely staged, although one or two of the instrumentalists could have been persuaded to wear quieter footwear and the poor double-bassist Imogen Fernando could have been supplied with a porter to assist her to carry off an instrument half as tall again as herself. In the final bars, where the two violins are left by themselves (even the conductor having vacated the stage) the looks that Christina Mavron gave to the leader Robin Stowell had all the unspoken vehemence of Miranda Hart. If she ever decides to give up playing, she clearly has the beginnings of an alternative career as a comedienne.

Throughout the orchestra sounded excellent under the baton of Eager, who made a couple of brief spoken introductions to the music to good effect. The acoustic of this hall, one of the best in Cardiff, did wonders for the sound.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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