2013 has been a bumper year for music anniversaries – but I don’t yet feel overdosed on the big three, Britten, Verdi and Wagner. The SSO have already given us a thrilling Young Person’s Guide earlier in the year – Sunday afternoon was the turn of Italy and Germany. Inexplicably and sadly Verdi and Wagner seem to polarize opinion, and this seemed to be reflected in the audience chat overheard even before we’d heard a note! It was a splendid idea to compare two overtures from the 1860’s – Force of Destiny and Tristan; the SSO were persuasive in both,with rich sonorities and fluid phrasing and an impassioned weight of sound at the climax moments. However most of the orchestra seemed more comfortable with the Verdi; there were times in the Wagner where important lines were lost in the texture, it seeming that this was a piece that they didn’t quite ‘get’ which is odd when they’ve given committed performances of Stravinsky, Shostakovitch and Davison too!
I’ve applauded before the SSO’s use of young ‘up and coming’ soloists; Matilda Lloyd is a fine example of this policy, and she’s local, and is a committed regular player with the orchestra. Her playing of the Haydn trumpet concerto had all the dexterity one could wish for and with a quality of sound that excited in the finale, but had the necessary lyrical charm in the famous slow movement. She has also the necessary stage poise to carry off this sort of pressured performing – it’s often difficult coming out from ‘behind the music stand’. The orchestra, supporting one of their own, were alert, sensitive and careful, I just wondered slightly if a little less care and a bit more panache would have been appropriate in the finale.
Mascagni [150th anniversary] has sadly become pretty much a one-piece composer– the well -known intermezzo was a stylishly played amuse bouche before Franck’s D minor main course. And it was a substantial main course, plenty of confident thrilling orchestral sonorities, but also really nicely turned instrumental details revealed in a composer not often celebrated for orchestration skills. It was a good decision to significantly reduce the damping effect of the stage curtains by pulling them back – I felt woodwind and brass came through with much more natural clarity and we could hear the attention to composers’ markings that these players give. Paradoxically, this clarity might have had a small effect in exposing slight ensemble and intonation compromises from some string desks, but for me that was little price to pay. This was a thoroughly satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable performance as the audience reaction testified also.
[They did lament the lack of a bar !]