Enjoyable Evening in Italy with Welsh Sinfonia

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert, Giacotto, Martello, Barber, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn: Gillian Taylor (oboe), Robin Stowell (violin), Welsh Sinfonia / Mark Eager (conductor), Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, 30 April 2016 (PCG)

Franz Schubert – Overture in D major ‘In the Italian style’
Remo Giazotto [attr. Tomaso Albinoni] – Adagio in G minor
Alessandro Marcello – Oboe Concerto in D minor
Charlie Barber – Scarlatti Remix
Antonio Vivaldi – The Four Seasons: Spring
Felix Mendelssohn – Symphony No 4 in A major ‘Italian]

When composers of the German school took on Italian models, they often outdid the originals in sheer exuberance – as can be seen in the overture to Wagner’s Das Liebesverbot, more Rossini than Rossini. In his ‘Overtures in the Italian style’ Schubert takes some time to build up momentum, but in the end he comprehensively matches Rossini in his turn. Mark Eager, whose brief spoken introductions to the music always provide pleasure, after a slightly tentative start delivered a thoroughly enjoyable performance.

After that it came as quite a shock to be catapulted back to the Baroque era with the piece universally known as “Albinoni’s Adagio”. That indeed is to assume that the Adagio is a baroque work at all, with seems highly doubtful; and the programme made no bones about assigning the work to twentieth-century musicologist Remo Giazotto whose ‘arrangement’ may or may not have been founded on a bass line by Albinoni. Certainly the result seems like nothing else known to be from Albinoni’s pen, and the performance rightly treated the score as a product of the twentieth rather than the eighteenth century.

There was plenty of warmth too in the playing of Marcello’s Oboe Concerto, probably better known for its adaptation as an organ concerto by Bach (who compounded the confusion by his attribution of the original score to Vivaldi). Gillian Taylor entirely convinced us that the original was a worthy piece in its own right, and sparkled in the outer movements. She also made a real emotional impact in the lovely central slow movement, in which the long phrases hardly seem to allow any time for the soloist to draw breath.

Gillian Taylor returned to her seat in the orchestra for Charlie Barber’s Scarlatti Remix, a work written last year and now recast in orchestral form. This piece is far more than just a simple rescoring of some movements from Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas, but has a real neo-classical spirit that echoes in temperament Stravinsky’s cheeky treatment of Pergolesi in Pulcinella. But the music also contains an emotional warmth in the middle movement which is startlingly unlike the eighteenth century, and seemed even to reach out for the added weight of a larger body of strings. (The composer afterwards described the music to be as like “Brahms on acid”, which seems to be about right.) The manic finale, with its quirky changes of rhythm, had all the headlong impetus of a Beethoven scherzo charging towards its unstoppable conclusion. The orchestra coped superbly with the many difficulties of execution with which they were confronted.

Apart from the use of a discreet harpsichord continuo in the performance of Spring from Vivaldi’s ubiquitous Four Seasons, the players delivered an unashamedly ‘big band’ performance of the score, and none the worse for that. Violin soloist Robin Stowell coped with the concerto sections of the writing with deceptive ease, and any uncomfortable feeling of hanging on a telephone line in an abortive attempt to contact a call centre (with which this music is perhaps unavoidably linked today) was thankfully avoided.

The opening of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, which concluded the programme, began in a decidedly classical fashion, with the smallish body of violins occasionally over-balanced by the wind contributions; but with the exposition repeat (sometimes omitted, but rightly restored here) a greater warmth of sound was already apparent, and the performance thereafter was stunningly good, the strings clear but forceful, the fugal writing in the first movement development excitingly delivered, and the whole sound bringing a full sense of Beethovenian strength. The pilgrims in the second movement moved purposefully forward. And the final saltarello, which can terrify many orchestras with its demands for rapid tonguing by the woodwinds and headlong violin figurations, was given a helter-skelter performance which confirmed both the ability of the players and the fearlessness of their conductor. It made a stunning conclusion to a most enjoyable concert. I look forward with anticipation to this orchestra’s next season.

Paul Corfield Godfrey


Leave a Comment