Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
March 5 2023
Review: William Ruff
Crisp baroque elegance from Sinfonia Viva
Nottingham Classics aren’t just Keeping Sunday Special, they’re nigh on making it ideal for the city’s music lovers. There’s already an outstandingly successful Sunday Morning Piano series and now we have the first Sunday afternoon concert of Baroque orchestral music. If this was a toe being put in the water, that very charming and elegant toe belonged to Sinfonia Viva.
Some of the most elegant music written in the earlier part of the 18th century were Handel’s Concerti Grossi, Op.6. Although the composer put all twelve of them together in the super-fast time of one month, they reveal a musical imagination at the height of its powers. Sinfonia Viva chose No 7 to open their concert, their performance full of wit, charm and a concern for transparent textures. Handel was a famously cosmopolitan composer, happy to mix styles from Germany, France, Italy and England. Sinfonia Viva’s musicians seemed equally at home in each of the five movements, from the formality of the French opening to the vigorous (and very English) hornpipe with which this Concerto ends.
Telemann’s Don Quixote Suite is rather more digestible than Cervantes’ mammoth novel of the same name. Although few people today have read every word of the adventures of the deluded Spanish knight, Telemann was clearly a fan and his light-hearted suite depicts some of the more memorable episodes the Don’s career. After a crisp rendition of the overture Sinfonia Viva clearly relished the chance to capture the dramatic character of each of the succeeding short movements: the would-be knight’s early morning routine; his attack on the windmills which he mistakes for giants (well, haven’t you?); his lovesickness and his companions both human and animal. The suite ends with Don Quixote back at home, falling asleep and dreaming of his next adventure. It was all good fun and Sinfonia etched each character and incident with fine detail and a strong sense of narrative.
Maddy Aldis-Evans and Sophie Rosa were the soloists in J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin. This is a work for which we have musical detectives to thank, as the original manuscript has been lost, meaning the concerto has had to be reconstructed from an arrangement Bach made for two harpsichords. As Sinfonia Viva demonstrated, it suits the oboe and violin perfectly and theirs was a performance of touching intimacy with well-judged tempi and lively rhythmic bounce. The two soloists seemed to have an intuitive feeling for gracefully contoured phrasing, their combination of vitality and gentleness bringing the work splendidly to life.
The same can be said about Heinichen’s Oboe Concerto in G minor in which the soloist was again Maddy Aldis-Evans. Its opening movement was full of high spirits; the slow movement abounded in graceful tenderness (and plenty of stylistic surprises) and the finale became a dazzling showpiece for the soloist’s virtuosity, with sharp contrasts of tonal colour and dynamics.
The Royal Concert Hall may not be an intimate setting but its high-definition acoustics allowed every nuance of a fascinating programme to shine through. If this concert was an experiment it will surely have whetted the audience’s appetite for more. After all, what better way to spend a musical Sunday afternoon?
Masters of German Baroque
Sophie Rosa, director/violin
Maddy Aldis-Evans, oboe