Sinfonia Viva, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, 29.11.17
Prokofiev had his tongue in his cheek when he gave the name ‘Classical’ to his first symphony, which both celebrates his Haydn-Mozart models and subverts them at the same time. Sinfonia Viva and conductor Duncan Ward turned in a spruce, dapper performance which missed nothing of the impish undercurrents. The first movement’s crispness, finesse and buoyancy, was matched by elegance and poise in the second. The gavotte was dispatched with a deliciously neat pay-off, and the finale bubbled with Prokofiev’s mischievous energy.
It was good to hear Hummel getting a moment in the spotlight. His Piano Concerto No 2 may not be the greatest work in the repertoire but it is full of charm, and often more. Soloist Clare Hammond put poetry centre-stage rather than virtuosity, though goodness knows there was plenty of that, too, especially in the many passages for the right hand in thirds. The first movement had drive as well as elegance, with the Italianate second theme bouncing along engagingly. In the proto-Chopin second movement, the piano’s crystalline runs stood out against a firm orchestral bedrock. From there, Hammond eased gently into the finale, in which elegantly-shaped woodwind solos punctuated the general ebullience.
To start Part 2, we heard Sibelius working his usual magic with a minimum of notes in Scene with Cranes, from his score for the play Kuolema (also the source of his popular Valse Triste). The clarinets’ two-note bird calls pierced the string’s atmospheric back-drop, with fragile solo violin and cello laying the piece to rest at the end.
Then all that was swept aside in the palpable excitement of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4, ‘Italian’. The surge of energy in the first movement (with repeat – hooray!), set off the gracefully and elegantly shaped phrases of the second, whose final pizzicato cadence was barely whispered. The minuet third movement became more of an elegant waltz. Then, after a minimal pause, came an account of the finale that was simply irresistible in its readiness to live dangerously.
At the end it was announced that, sadly, this was Duncan Ward’s last concert as Sinfonia Viva’s Principal Conductor. He has made a big impact during his few years in the job. We’re sorry to see him go, but we wish him well for the future.