Excitement and Pointillism from Eager & Welsh Sinfonia

28/09/2014

 Mendelssohn, Fauré, Gareth Glyn, Michael Csanyi-Wills, Beethoven: Welsh Sinfonia, Mark Eager (conductor). Doris Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff. 27.9.2014 (PCG)

 

Mendelssohn – Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave), Op.26
Fauré – Pavane in F sharp minor, Op.50
Gareth Glyn – Legend of the Lake (1984)
Michael Csanyi-Wills – Seagull Nebula (2014)
Beethoven – Symphony No 1 in C, Op.21

 

It is always a pleasure to encounter a performance of a well-known warhorse which makes the listener sit up and take notice, and that was certainly the case with Mark Eager’s interpretation of Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave overture which opened this programme. Time and again details were brought to attention which resulted from a close examination of the score, and the persistent crescendo and diminuendi which punctuate the sustained brass chords were given their full measure here. The result was very exciting and dramatic – no sense of classical restraint – and although a larger body of violins might have made more of their fast passages, there was plentiful evidence to make one realise exactly why Wagner (not generally a fan of Mendelssohn) admired the score so much.

The Fauré Pavane made a pleasant interlude before we were given a suite extracted from Gareth Glyn’s music from the 1984 film Legend of the Lake. There were four movements here, but one would not have gathered even that much from the rather brief programme note provided by the composer, which did not even give the titles of the movements in their correct order; one would have welcomed more details about the film itself, since the music clearly reflected in many places the action on the screen. The composer’s note referred to a “distant trumpet” at the beginning, but in the event the player here was placed in the balcony of the hall, and there was no sense of remoteness at all – although even in the performance on Gareth Glyn’s own website the trumpet remains quite closely balanced. But the slow Reminiscence movement was very beautiful indeed, and the Manhunt built up a good head of rhythmic propulsion. The orchestra sounded very rich in the marvellous acoustics of the small hall.

After the interval we heard the first Cardiff performance of Michael Csanyi-Wills’s Seagull Nebula, which had been given twice before in the orchestra’s ‘Crescendo Tour’ but which the composer – who attended this concert – was hearing for the first time. He had very considerately sent me a copy of the score for advance study, and my initial reading suggested to me a piece in impressionist style, with the strings divided for almost the full duration and decorated with woodwind arabesques in the best Ravel manner. The results on hearing proved to be more pointillist – Seurat rather than Monet – with bare textures which were more suited to the medium of space which the programme, describing a space traveller approaching, passing through and receding from the nebula, described in the composer’s informative programme notes. The ‘tone poem’ (not so described) had some overtones of Holst (particularly Neptune) and Vaughan Williams (third movement of the Sinfonia Antartica) but the style was decidedly Csanyi-Wills’s own, with the jagged sforzandi in the strings picking out a richly discordant series of chords which framed the rest of the music. The composer’s earlier scores had also displayed a commendable willingness to provide richly melodic themes, but here these were reduced to “wisps of melody” which came and went through the contrapuntal lines of the orchestral writing. The result had a properly unearthly feel which was most effective, and the playing was everything that one could wish. Apparently the quiet cymbal roll which rustled in the ear in the last bars – missing from the full score – had arisen during rehearsals as the result of some bizarre copying mistake – but it was a very beautifully atmospheric touch.

Beethoven’s First Symphony which concluded the programme was given a delightfully sly and cheeky performance which brought out to the full the composer’s iconoclastic touches which must so have surprised its first audiences. Mark Eager obtained splendid results from the orchestra, and we were given the full measure of repeats which are so essential to balance the structure of the music with the exception of the exposition repeat in the slow movement (not a serious loss). The violins positively relished their initial hesitant disclosure of the main theme at the beginning of the finale, bringing out to the full the sense of humour that the moment so clearly requires. This orchestra goes from strength to strength, and their current touring schedule clearly benefits from the ability to thoroughly explore the works in their repertory with multiple rehearsals and performances. Their playing throughout was excellent. The programme is scheduled to be repeated (with some minor changes) at the Gwyn Hall, Neath (2 October), Aberystwyth Arts Centre (3 October), the Torch Theatre, Milford Haven (15 November) and Christ College, Brecon (16 January). Audiences in those localities should make every effort to hear these performances; they will be in for a treat.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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