Sinfonia Viva, Derby Cathedral, 17.10.18

Wednesday 17th October 2018

Sinfonia Viva, Derby Cathedral, 17.10.18 

With JS Bach at its core, and various ramifications of that spilling over into the rest of the programme, Sinfonia Viva’s first Derby Cathedral concert of the season was one of the best yet. 

Stravinsky’s ‘Dumbarton Oaks’ Concerto – one of the most engaging products of his neo-classical phase – was his conscious imitation of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. Viva’s crisp, lively performance with Principal Conductor Frank Zielhorst was informed by clear, incisive playing, though the effect was somewhat blurred by the Cathedral’s voluminous acoustic. The second movement’s solo lines were made to dovetail neatly, and the sudden quiet passages in the first two movements came as the splashes of cool water that Stravinsky no doubt intended. The finale was punchy, almost visceral, and that’s a word I didn’t think I would ever use in connection with this piece. 

The Bach was the Concerto for oboe and violin, BWV 1060, reconstructed from one of his keyboard concerto. Soloists Maddy Aldis-Evans and Benedict Holland played not just with, but to each other, not least in the second movement’s double aria that they and the orchestra made also a gracious dance. Particularly in the third movement, this was some of the freshest Bach playing I've heard for quite a while. 

Respighi’s The Birds may not have anything directly to do with Bach, but it’s a product of his fascination with early music, based on various seventeenth- and eighteenth-century instrumental bird portraits. Following a Prelude finely balanced between sturdiness and delicacy, The Dove drew further mellifluous oboe playing from Aldis-Evans. No 3 is a more-or-less straightforward transcription of Rameau’s ‘La Poule’. In Viva’s hands this particular chicken got very uppity indeed. The fourth movement’s Nightingale murmured gently, while the Cuckoo of the final movement was surrounded by same breeze that blows Venus ashore in the composer's Botticelli Triptych. Orchestra and conductor brought every last detail vividly to life. 

Mendelssohn was, famously, a committed champion of Bach’s music, though there’s little obvious sign of that in his ‘Italian’ Symphony. It is already bursting at the seams with his typically puppyish exuberance, but this performance was something else again. The first movement was a riot of colour and energy, the second had firm movement underlying its steady tread, and there was a pleasing lilt to the third. Nothing, though, quite prepared us for conductor and orchestra unleashing such a blistering whirlwind of a finale. The dare-devil pace didn’t let up for a moment, but while it left room for plenty of detail to come through, it was by some distance the wildest, most exhilarating account I’ve ever heard.