Darkly enlightening programme from Leamington Sinfonia - The Leamington Observer

Darkly enlightening programme from Leamington Sinfonia

Philippa Mingins 1st Jul, 2024 Updated: 1st Jul, 2024   0

Leamington Sinfonia

All Saints Church

Facing the varied counter attractions of barbecue weather, wall-to-wall euro football and even Coldplay’s Glastonbury antics on the TV, Leamington Sinfonia braved all by turning even further from Summer lightness with a programme of blissfully unremitting gloom.

And, thanks to the concentration and commitment of the orchestra under its conductor Joe Davies, the pleasingly full audience will have gone home happy with their side of the bargain.

The programme started with two shorter pieces written by composers who are not only in the land of the living but were present at the concert to hear their works and enjoy the reception.

Howard Skempton’s very pastoral Prelude for Orchestra had the orchestra building a gentle image of brooding tranquility before reaching a revelatory peak; Henry Page’s Vespula Cartouche drew unusual sounds, though by no means unique, from the players employing layers of clashing disharmonies to create a hive-like hum.

Programmed thus, it’s hard not to be drawn to the similarities. Two (fairly) modern takes on the theme of nature’s darker edges. It’s quite brave to put such pieces first on the menu. Both suffered a little from a rather muddy acoustic in the strings and the occasional rather tentative entry in brass, but with its clearer depiction and more appealing texture the first might stay in the mind longer.

Shostakovich’s mighty 11th Symphony is a huge piece often weighed down by the baggage it seems to have accumulated over the years. What it depicts, what it represents and what it amounts to have filled many a musicologist’s notebook.

Taken at face value though, it is a piece played in one go which offers the chance for a orchestra to move from the brittle suspense of its quietest passages, through bursts of lush melody to a few of those climactic moments where an orchestra in full flow is still more sonically impressive than anything Glastonbury could offer.

The orchestra strove creditably to cover every stage of this challengingly broad dynamic. At times the quietest episodes succeeded in almost disappearing into the church’s stonework while the triumphant  full-on tuttis bounced round the space like thunder.

This was a fine performance of a really tough work which could have been helped by a slightly better balance. The strings seemed to lack a crisp top edge, the timpani – not one of Shostakovich’s most thoughtful parts – obliterated almost everything else and the placing of the tubular bells high in the church’s gallery was spot-on visually if all but lost aurally.

But with the confidence to take on such works and stray so far from standard Summer repertoire this was a concert to cherish and admire in equal measure.

Matthew Salisbury



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