Kathryn Stott and Lancashire Sinfonietta uplift and entertain St.Anne’s on Sea

Beethoven, Mozart, Piazzolla, Mozart: Kathryn Stott (piano), Lancashire Sinfonietta,/Bradley Creswick (director). United Reformed Church, St. Annes on Sea, Lancashire, 25.6.2011 (MC)

Beethoven – Grosse Fuge in B flat major, Op. 133 (arranged F. Weingartner)
Mozart –
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K.466
Piazzolla –
Verano Porteño (Summer) & Oblivion
Mozart –
Symphony No. 41 in C major, ‘Jupiter’ K. 551

Not the best known or most utilised concert venue the United Reformed Church at St. Annes-on-Sea has been doing extremely well recently. Only two weeks ago the church hosted a recital from powerful soprano Jane Irwin recently back from singing Wagner at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper and now the visit of the Lancashire Sinfonietta with internationally renowned pianist Kathryn Stott.

The Lancashire Sinfonietta is a chamber orchestra whch drawsits members from a variety of orchestras including: BBC Philharmonic; the Hallé; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; Academy of Ancient Music; Orchestra Revolutionnaire et Romantique; Manchester Camerata and the European Union Chamber Orchestra.

As an ensemble that sets itself high benchmarks the Grosse Fugue was unquestionably a bold choice with which to open the evening’s concert. Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue might have been written as long ago as 1825 but the music still has a contemporary feel. It presents some thorny listening challenges for an audience. Its unremitting introspection together with technical difficulties push its unconventional rhythms and dense harmonies to the limit. Originally written as the Finale to the Quartet in B flat major, Op 130 Beethoven in 1827 had the Grosse Fuge published separately as his Op. 133. Opting to perform the version for strings as arranged by Felix Weingartner the Sinfonietta under the enthusiastic direction of Bradley Creswick got off to an uncharacteristically uneven start. As Creswick steered the string unison back on course I was able to concentrate and appreciate Beethoven’s great wash of string sound.

Not surprisingly Lancashire born pianist Kathryn Stott is extremely popular in this neck of the woods. The audience not only admired her playing but also her straightforward way of introducing the works. Stott’s particular affection for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, a familiar score of enduring regard, was evident. Although Stott must have played the score countless times she was never bereft of freshness, playing the outer movements with brilliant immediacy. Observing appropriate restraint with tender and assured playing of the Romanza at no time did she resort to syrupy attempts to tug the heartstrings.

After the interval the St. Annes audience was treated to two scores for piano and chamber orchestra by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. Now extremely popular Piazzolla’s style of nuevo tango was conceived in the back street bordellos of Buenos Aires. Much more than mere café music the first piece Verano Porteño is the final movement of Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) an integrated suite marketed as companion pieces to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Entitled Oblivion the second piece formed part of the soundtrack to Marco Bellochio’s 1984 film Henry IV, the Mad King. In astute arrangements by Federico Mondelci both scores confidently evoked an atmosphere of furtive mystery combined with the dancing rhythms of the tango. In Verano Porteño both Creswick and the principal cello joined pianist Stott in providing impressive solo contributions. Marvellous too were the expressive Sinfonietta strings swooning with joy. The unashamedly sensual playing of the hot and sultry Oblivion made it easy to imagine two dancers in an intimate embrace, moving seductively across the dance floor of a back street Buenos Aires bar.

For the final work of the evening the Sinfonietta turned to Mozart’s famous C major Symphony No. 41 the ‘Jupiter.’ I was struck by how much difference the addition of two trumpets and a timpanist made to the scoring. However, I felt that the textures of the low strings would have benefited from an additional double bass. Director Creswick ensured that the pacing of the opening movement crackled with excitement followed by the contrasting Andante catabile that glowed with elegance. In the charming Menuetto the players provided plenty of detail with the dance rhythms flowing delightfully. The briskly taken Finale complete with its five themes was the perfect vehicle for the players to show their wholehearted spirit especially in the exhilarating coda. Throughout the impeccable Sinfonietta strings provided small miracles. I really enjoyed the colourful and winsome woodwind contributions and the astutely played horns were a delight.

Once again the Lancashire Sinfonietta, assisted by pianist Kathryn Stott, provided consistently impressive performances that were a sheer delight. It would be hard to imagine anyone coming away not feeling uplifted and entertained.

Michael Cookson