Review: Britten Sinfonia

Catrin Harrison 11 February 2010

West Road Concert Hall, Friday 5th February 2010

I have never heard an orchestra so united as the Britten Sinfonia chamber orchestra. Perhaps it was due to the excitable principle violinist Pekka Kuusisto doubling as the conductor, but the Sinfonia seemed to play, sway and even breathe as one.

The first half was a delight, by turns both charming and thrilling. A run of three short Purcells melted seamlessly into one, then flowed into the exquisite Tippett’s ‘A Lament’, itself based around a strain of the Purcellian ‘Dido’s Lament’, creating a magical beginning to the evening. Britten’s glorious ‘Les Illuminations’ followed, encompassing almost every human emotion, expressed expertly by tenor Mark Padmore and the Sinfonia, captivating the audience.

After the interval a reduced ensemble easily leant itself to a gently soothing duet of Steve Reich, before all the performers returned to the stage for the UK premier of a new work by Nico Muhly. Despite moments of beauty, and even glimpses of brilliance, the piece as a whole was too self-conscious and seemed to be trying too hard.

While Padmore masterfully showcased his beautiful vocal control, even during the less exciting moments of the program, he was overshadowed by the sheer exuberance of the orchestra. The musicians beamed at one another throughout, listening intently to their colleagues and clearly taking pleasure in their combined strength. Each note surged with an intense passion and emotion that engulfed the eager audience completely.

The majestic swelling climax of the John Adams would have been a fitting end to the program in itself, but the encore of a lively movement of Sibelius, complete with the tenor playing the triangle, encapsulated the concert’s mood of fun and vigour perfectly.

A concert of such length should have been exhausting, especially on a Friday night, but the sheer joy and energy of the Britten Sinfonia remained exhilarating throughout, and I for one left the concert hall revived.

Catrin Harrison