Masters & Maestros at Derby Cathedral

Wednesday 14th March 2018

Review by Mike Wheeler

Sinfonia Viva, Derby Cathedral, 14.3.18

Frank Zielhorst officially stepped into his new post as Sinfonia Viva’s Principal Conductor with a programme balancing Mozart and Haydn with a youthful Britten masterpiece.

Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge is a tribute to Britten’s early composition teacher, and it was a nice idea to have the orchestra’s string principals play the theme in question – the second of Bridge’s Three Idylls – beforehand. But placing it ahead of the advertised opener, the ballet music from Mozart’s Idomeneo, with no prior explanation must have left a lot of listeners rather puzzled.

The Britten itself, though, got a dazzling performance – muscular in the fanfare-like introduction, dizzily swooping and diving in ‘Aria Italiana’, with a relish for the dry wit of ‘Bourée Classique’, a sense of fragility at the end of ‘Wiener Waltzer’. The neat dovetailing as the single line of ‘Moto Perpetuo’ was handed on from one section of the orchestra to the next was impressive. A powerfully weighty ‘Funeral March’ was followed by a suitably enigmatic account of ‘Chant’. Nervy excitement in the culminating fugue gave way to a hauntingly withdrawn ending.

The Mozart got an alert, vigorous account, fitting its origins as the celebratory conclusion of his first truly great opera. Elegant, athletic, graceful, the performance emphasised the music’s sheer danceability.

It was good to see Haydn getting top billing for once, instead of being relegated to the warm-up spot. No 104 was a brilliant way to end his symphonic career, whether or not he consciously intended it as such, and Viva’s performance left us in no doubt of the fire and nerves of steel behind the ‘Papa Haydn’ persona. Launching the first movement with an imposing account of the slow introduction, conductor and orchestra teased out a vein of roguish humour amid the second movement’s stateliness, and brought plenty of bounce and swagger to the Minuet. There was poignancy in the finale’s more intimately lyrical moments, offsetting the exuberance and spirit elsewhere.

A hugely promising start to Frank Zielhorst’s time with the orchestra.