Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Audience soon warmed to Sinfonia

What do you typically do on a very cold February Sunday afternoon? The obvious answer is to curl up in

What do you typically do on a very cold February Sunday afternoon? The obvious answer is to curl up in front of a fire with the papers.

But last Sunday I turned out, well wrapped, to hear the West Forest Sinfonia play at Reading University’s Great Hall. And I’m really glad I did!

There are three reasons; firstly, it was an excellent venue for orchestral music. The Great Hall has an arched ceiling and you can sit far back in the hall and hear really well. Good for choral as well as instruments.

Secondly, I heard a new piece of music by Sibelius; new for me at least and probably most of the audience. Lastly I heard a really good orchestra and a brilliant Romanian pianist. Even though the hall was rather cold, the music warmed you up.

The conductor, Philip Ellis gave an introduction to The Wood Nymph by Jean Sibelius, a tone poem written in 1894 but lost in the archives until it was rediscovered and premiered in 1996. It’s based on a Swedish folktale in a magical forest with an exotic dancer but ends in tragedy. The audience was warned that it wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but from the reaction at the end it was universally acclaimed. This was a very stirring and moving piece of music which was really enchanting. There’s no substitute for hearing a piece like this played live as you can join in the excitement as the various sections join and leave.

Then the orchestra was joined on the stage by Florian Mitrea, a pianist from Bucharest, who has been studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He is a very flamboyant player which was ideal for this piece - Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G. I would describe it as an exhibition piece which taxed the techniques of the soloist and the orchestra. The three movements are in great contrast with a beautiful slow second section and a very jaunty final section which created a very exciting finish. Florian looked as if he had really enjoyed giving that performance and it was well appreciated.

Finally, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 which is well known to many people, not just for itself but from the extracts that have been used in films, TV and even adverts. There’s great pleasure in listening to a fine piece of music being played well, and following the themes which occur throughout the music. By this time everyone was warmed up and thoroughly enjoying the music.

It’s a credit to Philip Ellis for his balanced choice of programme - something new, something challenging and something familiar. It worked really well and it was almost disappointing to go out again into the cold.

John Evans

West Forest Sinfonia, Great Hall, University of Reading

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