Monday 24 November 2014

Divine Purcell, engaging Woolrich - Sinfonia Student Carl reviews

John Woolrich at 60: Britten Sinfonia @ Cambridge 21/11/14

Divine Purcell, engaging Woolrich

Rich strings and pulsating rhythms transcended the concert hall, serving as an exposition of the thought processes and sources of inspiration for one of today’s great living composers. 

The pre-concert talk was a perfect introduction to the music of John Woolrich, for those who were not already familiar with his work. An engaging presentation, together with the help of the Britten Sinfonia Academy students performing two inspiring works, In the Mirrors of Asleep and Stealing a March, helped give an informative overview of the composer’s style, however it was unfortunate that the composer could not be in Cambridge for the pre-concert talk due to a sudden back injury. We wish him well in his recovery.

The introduction of Purcell and Wolf songs for soprano and strings and solo strings was sublime, with Woolrich’s arrangements of both coming to life in the hands of Britten Sinfonia. The string sound was beautiful, and the leadership of Thomas Gould was well-judged. Susanna Hurrell did an admirable job, standing in for Sophie Bevan at the last minute. Her voice was well-suited to the Purcell, and blended majestically with the orchestra.

Soprano Susanna Hurrell with the orchestra.

The two arrangements provided the perfect backdrop for John Woolrich’s first work of the evening, Ulysses Awakens, an intriguingly named work featuring solo viola, performed with consummate skill by Clare Finnimore. The work featured harmonies identifiable with both the Purcell and the Wolf, however it brought an endearing modal feel, hinting at a folk-type sound. Both beautiful and lively, to the listener the work was a pleasure. 

The first half closed with an admirable performance of Stravinsky’s Eight Miniatures, with Duncan Ward instructing the ensemble well, and with the composer’s ineffable sense of humour and rhythm pervading the work, so as to create a pleasing performance, and a spectacular Per pieta, non ricercate, by Mozart. Hurrell was again wonderful. 

The second half could be seen as being perhaps more conventionally judged, with the lengthy first section contrasted with a relatively brief final period, including two works which functioned symbiotically, so as to create a cohesive performance. Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks, a neo-classical favourite, was effervescent and sparkling in its wit, with engaging rhythms heightening interest. The audience seemed once again enthused, following their mid-concert snooze. The star of the show, however, was Woolrich’s Violin Concerto, a fabulous and endearing work, which was performed in style by Thomas Gould, under the fantastic leadership of Duncan Ward. Ward’s simple yet effective conducting - efficient is perhaps the word - suited the work beautifully, as he brought a clarity to the music that was much-needed. The violin enjoys much interplay with the orchestra in this interesting work, particularly with the marimba, which was well-judged.  

Thomas Gould and Duncan Ward receiving applause after Woolrich's Violin Concerto.

The performance was well-received, and one cannot help but suggest that the applause given to the works of Woolrich was equal to that of the well-established repertoire, indicating the composer’s relevance today. A fitting celebration, and exploration, of the man, and the composer, as he turns sixty this year.

Carl Wikeley (Sinfonia Student 2014-15)

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