Lancashire Sinfonietta Impresses Despite Uncertain Future

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Mendelssohn, Mozart, Beethoven: Peter Sparks (clarinet), Lancashire Sinfonietta/Andrew Watkinson (leader), Preston Minster, Lancashire, 29.6.2013 (MC)

Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture ‘Fingal’s Cave
Mozart: Concerto for Clarinet in A major,
Beethoven: Symphony No.7 in A major

Photo copyright:Lancashire Sinfonietta
Photo copyright:Lancashire Sinfonietta

First the bad news, news that couldn’t really be much worse. Prior to the concert there was a grave announcement to the audience that the Lancashire Sinfonietta’s principal financier, the Lancashire County Council, was to slash its funding by over 80% which in turn will necessitate the withdrawal of the orchestra’s Arts Council grant. It doesn’t take a financial genius to work out that this concert at Preston Minster may be the last time that the Sinfonietta will play in their current form. In this the final concert of the orchestra’s 17th season the good news to report was that the Sinfonietta’s performance was simply stunning; which makes the funding decision about the orchestra’s future even more disappointing.

A full house in attendance at Preston Minster listened to a programme of masterworks from Mendelssohn, Mozart and Beethoven. Highly popular music it may have been but it was no worse for that. After the sobering news, the Sinfonietta led by the assured Andrew Watkinson could be excused for having their minds elsewhere but it actually seemed to galvanise them, launching into Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture as if their lives depended on it. Commonly known as ‘Fingals Cave’ this is Mendelssohn’s musical depiction of his memorable excursion to the spectacular cavern on the small island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides. Overdosing on drama and wonder, this evocative performance of ‘Fingal’s Cave’ was one of the finest I have heard in the concert hall. Such was the evocative quality of the playing I could almost smell and taste the tangy, salt water and feel the exhilaration of the stinging cold spray from the dangerous crashing waves.

Clarinettist Peter Sparks was soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto – such a perennial favourite in the concert hall. I have heard the piece played better but that was a couple of seasons ago in Berlin by Sabine Meyer who is widely acknowledged as the world’s finest player. Beautiful phrasing and an enticing sense of light and shade were the highlight of Sparks’ masterly playing combined with the liberal amounts of personality injected into his performance.

When Wagner described Beethoven’s wonderful Symphony No.7 as “the apotheosis of the dance” he was surely referring to the work’s continual rhythmic patterns. Right from the opening oboe solo there was certainly plenty of spring in the Sinfonietta’s rhythms and a powerful sense of momentum. Finest of all was the vitality and sheer passion the Sinfonietta was able convey so decisively and at times forcefully. It might be a well worn phrase to say the concert stirred the heart and moved the spirit but the standing ovation that the Sinfonietta received at Preston Minster proved the point.


Michael Cookson