An Invigorating Evening

Tuesday 19th March 2013

Sinfonia Viva with Gergely Madaras (conductor) and O Duo - Owen Gunnell and Oliver Cox - (percussionists)

Derby Assembly Rooms

Recently appointed to a Charles Mackerras Fellowship at English National Opera, young Hungarian conductor Gergely Madaras was at the helm of Sinfonia Viva’s invigorating evening of Haydn, Beethoven and a world premiere.

In Haydn's Symphony 103, the opening drum-roll that gives the work its nickname was a flamboyant flourish – not what Haydn wrote, but effective, especially when it came back later in the opening movement. With Viva's strings producing an attractively grainy string sound, Madaras presided over a performance full of character, not least in a sturdily rustic account of the minuet, pointing up affinities with Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony in the trio section.

Breaking Silence is four-movement percussion concerto by Fraser Trainer commissioned jointly by Viva with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Australia, the Borletti-Buitoni Trust and the Fidelio Trust. With an array of instruments large and small stretching the full width of the stage, Trainer gave soloists Owen Gunnell and Oliver Cox – O Duo - plenty of running around to do (I understand that at one stage they asked for the work to be made more demanding in this respect). The music's wide expressive range opened out from a portentously brassy opening, which moved into a high-energy work-out for both soloists sharing the marimba. They had the short, punchy second movement to themselves, before the orchestra rejoined them for a mostly very quiet third movement. There were some beautifully subtle and unusual effects from both soloists and orchestra here, though it did feel just a touch over-long. The urban dance finale reached a huge climax, which was abruptly cut short to leave two flutes quietly suspended in mid-air, to magical effect.

The performance of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony after the interval may perhaps have struck some listeners as a touch light-weight. But it was an ear-cleansing account that moved more like a big cat than a lumbering juggernaut, with the left-right placing of the violins helping to elucidate textures and sonorities. The first movement recapitulation, where Beethoven brings the horn in early with the opening theme, created a real frisson, and concentrated intensity in the Funeral March integrated the expressive contrasts into a single span.

Madaras introduced a couple of novel touches in the finale, calling for just solo strings at one point, at another asking for the clarinets to project their sound with the bells raised – not what you’d want every time but interesting as one-off effects. The tiny break before the final presto was an effective touch in an refreshing overall reading of this epoch-making work.

Review by Mike Wheeler