United Kingdom Mozart, Nyman, Ives, Prokofiev: Sara Trickey (violin), Sarah Jane Bradley (viola),
Welsh Sinfonia, Charles Hazlewood (conductor), Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff. 17.1.2015 (PCG)
Mozart – Sinfonia Concertante in E flat, K.364
Nyman – Trysting Fields (1988)
Ives – The Unanswered Question (1908)
Prokofiev – Symphony No 1 in D, Op.25 ‘Classical’
This was the first concert given by the Welsh Sinfonia since its foundation which was not conducted by a member of the organisation. However Charles Hazlewood continued Mark Eager’s worthy tradition of verbally introducing the items of the programme to the audience, which also served to ‘cover’ the platform rearrangement necessary after the performance of Ives’s The Unanswered Question. Charles Hazlewood is of course a born communicator, and his impromptu ‘chat’ was highly entertaining in its own right quite apart from solving a practical problem.
The programme was enterprising too in the presentation of the two linked works in its first half. In September 2012 I had found much to praise in Sara Trickey’s performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the same orchestra, and looked forward to her further appearances with anticipation. Here she was joined in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante by Sarah Jane Bradley, whose recording of the Braunfels Scottish Fantasy was one of my most delightful discoveries of last year. The hall was ideal for this work; the smallish body of strings was properly defined in the resonant acoustic, and the violin and viola sounded in exactly the right perspective. The two soloists formed an ideal partnership in the first movement cadenza; there was plenty of subtlety here, and in the beautiful extended slow movement. The finale was taken at a comfortable pace, not rushed, which allowed all the notes to make their proper impact even though the result might have been removed from some modern ideas of speedy authenticity – and none the worse for that.
The Sinfonia was given in an ideal coupling with Michael Nyman’s Trysting Fields, a sort of palimpsest on the slow movement of the Mozart which built up even more of a head of emotive steam before its disconcertingly abrupt ending. As a composer I know only too well how difficult it is to bring a piece of music to an unhackneyed conclusion, but surely stopping in mid-phrase (a solution that goes back at least as far as Wozzeck) is not the ideal answer. Nonetheless this is a very beautiful piece, quite devoid of the sense of chugging repetition that can sometimes afflict Nyman’s music.
Another work with a deliberately inconclusive ending is Ives’s The Unaswered Question, but here the spatial disposition of the players – strings and trumpet in different parts of the balcony, woodwind quartet slowly emerging onto the stage from the wings – lends a sense of theatricality which is ultimately satisfying. At the beginning the total absence of any performers from the stage generated a sense of expectation, and the wind players were required to play their notes without any music in front of them – a feat they managed with assurance and panache under the eagle eye of Mark Eager, acting as sub-conductor from the front of the stalls.
There was plenty of assurance and panache too in the performance of the Prokofiev Classical Symphony which brought this concert to an end. When I reviewed the Russian State Philharmonic in Cardiff in this same score last October, I observed that Prokofiev (despite his acknowledged classical models) seemed to have expected a full body of modern orchestral strings. In the hall here, the number of players seemed to generally produce a good sense of internal balance; although possibly a little more violin weight might have helped, the scurrying passages were cleanly delivered and generated a real sense of excitement in the outer movements. Indeed the players of the Welsh Sinfonia yielded no points to their Russian counterparts last autumn, and excelled them in places. An excellent concert, which generated enthusiasm for the next concert by this orchestra which will bring their 2014-15 season to a close.
Paul Corfield Godfrey