Berlioz was one of many composers who took on the role of critic to provide financial support in the gaps between more lucrative and creative work. In his highly idiosyncratic ‘Memoirs’ he states he found it to be even more irksome than ‘being a finance minister in a republic’. He himself suffered considerably at the hands of critics, public and other musicians – luckily for us the only survival from the savaging which Benvenuto Cellini got is the fabulously original and thrilling Carnaval Romain. And that’s what it was with the SSO on Sunday afternoon; thrilling and bright, new and modern – a really great opening to the concert. Energy, precision, atmosphere and beauty were all there to a thoroughly involving degree – follow that!
Well they did; and with some new music; some very new music. I don’t know of another amateur orchestra that would be prepared to take on Ferragosto – Feast and Fireworks and deliver a unique sound world in such a convincing manner. The ‘bells’ section with its threads of plainsong and multi-channel bells with different voices was hugely evocative of an Italian ‘festa’ – it absolutely was the sound track to our own experience of Ferragosto last August in Arezzo. The kaleidoscopic, multi-layered nature of the music must have been hard but it was a brilliant job from the SSO and it left an electric atmosphere in the hall at its conclusion. The technical demands of Fireworks were even greater and possibly got in the way from time to time but this was impressionism in the best sense of the term – I just wanted a Verdi bass drum to move the earth. This was a thoroughly worthwhile excursion for orchestra, conductor and composer; despite the ‘Marmite’ warning from Darrell Davison the audience were surprised by their own feelings toward this pair of tone poems.
A bit of froth from Rossini/Respighi in La Boutique Fantasque gave us a useful lead in to the soloist’s slot in the programme. Local [and ex SSO] trumpeter Matilda Lloyd has become a European star through her orchestral work with NYO and EUYO, but on Sunday it was Italian coloratura she gave us – if you can use that term for an instrumentalist. Una furtiva lagrima possessed the cantabile line you would hope for from a great singer and tend not to associate with trumpet, and then the Carnival of Venice was the real show-off stuff with notes by the bucket-full and truly effective duetting with herself. Totally convincing virtuosity accompanied with love by the SSO. An encore of ‘one cornetto’ was just right. The audience rightly enthusiastic.
The March from Aida got us back after the interval – nice precision from brass, wind and strings in this – even coping with the slightly unsettling end to this arrangement. Respighi’s Fountains of Rome is sound painting again and the SSO managed the change of style from the Verdi well, sounding French and even Russian in some passages – really effective orchestral colour. The hushed passages of both dawn and sunset were as evocative as the grandeur of the Trevi fountain, the fact that these moments work well speaks of the orchestra’s ability to listen to each other as well as watching the stick.
Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien should always be a winner – as the programme note suggested it is essentially light music. But it’s by an orchestral master so it’s demanding; however the adrenalin on stage was flowing freely by this time, producing focus rather than panic, and all involved produced a great coda to a fine concert.