Heartwarming Performance on a Stormy Evening from Lancashire Sinfonietta

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Vivaldi, Handel, J. S. Bach, Debussy, Vaughan Williams, Mendelssohn: Sarah Whewell (flute), Eleanor Hudson (harp), Lancashire Sinfonietta/Andrew Watkinson (violin), Christmas Candlelight Concerto series, United Reformed Church, St. Annes-on-Sea, Lancashire, 08.12.2011 (MC)

Vivaldi – Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op. 3/11
Handel –
Concerto for harp in B flat major, Op. 4/6
J.S. Bach –
Suite No.2 in B minor, BWV 1067
Debussy – Danses sacrée et profane
Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on Greensleeves
Mendelssohn – Sinfonia No.7 in D minor

Although the United Reformed Church at St. Annes-on-Sea has a splendid acoustic the stormy weather that was traversing northern Britain provided a wild and gusty backdrop to the attractive music that was being played inside.

For those new to Lancashire Sinfonietta they are a professional chamber orchestra who draw their players from a variety of orchestras including the Hallé Orchestra; BBC Philharmonic; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; Academy of Ancient Music; Orchestra Revolutionnaire et Romantique; European Union Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. This was my fourth Lancashire Sinfonietta concert this year and I always come away feeling uplifted.

Less than six months ago when the Lancashire Sinfonietta last played in concert at the same St. annes church the programme was a meaty affair that included the Beethoven Grosse Fuge in Weingartner’s arrangement and Mozart’s Symphony No. 41Jupiter’. Serving as a contrast to the above concert this light and undemanding December evening’s programme was part of the Sinfonietta’s Christmas Candlelight Concerto series.

The first work of the evening was Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in D minor for strings. A degree of uneven intonation was evident in the opening pages. Soon the Sinfonietta’s renowned precision returned providing a satisfying rendition of this engaging score which seemed over all so soon. Soloist Eleanor Hudson got off to a rather uneven start in Handel’s Harp Concerto. Any initial cause for concern waned as the harpist went on to display a delicate virtuosity in Handel’s colourful waterfall of sound. J.S. Bach’s Suite No.2 is a collection of dances in the French style with an elaborate flute part played by Sarah Whewell. Especially prominent in the final Badinerie the flute had plenty of opportunity for display. Disappointingly the warm toned woodwind instrument wasn’t able cut through the string accompaniment as the harp had done previously and was barely audible.

If the opening half of the programme was at times missing a degree of the Sinfonietta’s trademark unity the three scores that came after the interval were all splendidly performed with a noticeable tightening of unison and an injection of exuberance. Debussy’s Danses sacrée et profane for harp and string orchestra was more delightful than I remembered. There was a real intensity to the playing in the Danse sacrée providing a prayerful atmosphere of rich tone colours. Melodically memorable the impressionist Danse profane was gloriously played. Undoubtedly his best known score Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Greensleeves features the traditional Greensleeves melody together with a Norfolk folk song the composer had collected. In a gratifying performance of the Fantasia I loved the haunting tones of the flute that could now be heard over the gale blowing in from the Irish Sea. It is hard to believe that a work as impressive as the String Symphony No.7 was a product of the prodigiously talented Mendelssohn’s early teenage years. Delightful on the ear the Sinfonietta’s playing was buoyant and glowing.

The Lancashire Sinfonietta rewarded those hardly souls that braved the bleak mid-winter weather at St. Annes with a heart-warming evening’s entertainment for the festive season.

Michael Cookson