Welsh Musicians Première New Works at Cheltenham

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Roxanna Panufnik, David Matthews, Wagner, Beethoven: Anthony Marwood (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Welsh Sinfonia, Mark Eager (conductor), Cheltenham Music Festival, Town Hall, Cheltenham, 7.7.2013. (RJ)

Roxanna Panufnik: Orchestrapaedia (English première)
David Matthews: Double Concerto (world première)
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll
Beethoven: Symphony No 8 in F op 93

Welsh Musicians Première New Works at Cheltenham Pic credit Phil Stapleton
Welsh Musicians Première New Works at Cheltenham (c) Phil Stapleton

People of my age and younger learned about the instruments of the orchestra from Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide. Future generations now have a work by Roxanna Panufnik to initiate them into orchestral music, which features characters like Big Daddy Bass, some Emotional Oboes and Senor Trompeta in a Mexican sombrero. Orchestrapaedia, commissioned by Welsh Sinfonia and the Cheltenham Music Festival Society takes a Welsh folk melody Dros yr afon as its theme and uses the characteristic sounds of the instruments in turn to chronicle a day in the life of a chamber orchestra.

The day begins, surprisingly perhaps, with a moonlight night and some atmospheric sounds from the percussion department, but as day breaks butterflies, moths and dragonflies come to life with some shimmering playing by the flutes, while disgruntled oboes make a fuss about being roused from their slumbers. A jazz element enters as a sassy clarinet flirts with the double bass, the brass plays loud and clear as noon arrives but as day rolls on to night one comes across the violas and cellos serenading each other. For the benefit of listeners who found this bewildering the composer’s brother, Jem Panufnik, had drawn some Hoffnung-esque pictures of the different instruments, fully costumed, which were projected during the performance. This music was zany and brilliant and allowed every instrumentalist to show off his or her virtuosity – which they did to great acclaim. Sophisticated concertgoers, however, saw little point in the visuals.

Orchestrapaedia received its world première in Cardiff earlier this year. This performance was billed as its English première – an indication, perhaps, of the political direction this country may be taking? However there was no doubt as to the credentials of the following work, David Matthews’ Double Concerto. This definitely was a world première.

It must be said that the sprightly Mr Matthews, who turned 70 in the spring, is having a good festival. His piano work Four Portraits was performed last week by William Howard of the Schubert Ensemble. This Double Concerto for violin and viola, with Anthony Marwood and Lawrence Power as soloists, is a challenging and cleverly orchestrated work inspired by Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E flat for these two instruments. Regrettably the Mozart was dropped from the programme at the last moment in favour of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll.

There is plenty of interest in the first movement, in which a competition breaks out between the two soloists. The composer was eager to point out in his pre-concert talk that this was not a fight to the death as in The Flaying of Marsyas but just a bout of friendly rivalry. The distinctly English characteristics of his music and his ornithological interest came to the fore in the nocturnal middle movement which featured a duet for two nightingales. The finale was a tremendously lively affair with constantly changing rhythms and culminated with an Irish jig – just as Orchestrapaedia had done. The two soloists surmounted the complexities of the work with skill and Mark Eager’s alert direction kept the orchestra on track.

A moving Siegfried Idyll and a vigorous account of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony completed the programme. The excellent Welsh Sinfonia have tended to confine their activities to the Principality until now, but now that they have found their way to the Severn Crossing (the bridge that connects Wales to England) I hope we shall have more visits from them.

Roger Jones