Classical music reviews by Mike Wheeler

A1pPu2GWDerwent Singers, St Mary’s Church, Derby, 27.6.15

‘Baroque in the Summertime’ was the strap-line on the publicity for the Derwent Singers’ latest concert, but ‘Bach the Borrower’ was the underlying premise. Original versions of music more familiar from its later incarnations in the B Minor Mass rubbed shoulders with selected movements from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, which Bach later adapted for his own purposes, and Bach’s Missa in A, BWV 234, which draws on movements from four different cantatas, with the motet Singet dem Herrn acting as ballast.

The opening movement of Cantata 46, the first section of which was re-used as the Qui Tollis from the Gloria of the B minor Mass made for a rather sombre opening. The fact that choral textures tended to sound over-homogenised probably had as much to do with the acoustic as anything else, and ensemble in the fugal section was not totally under control. The atmosphere lightened considerably in the Gloria Patri second movement of Cantata 191, the prototype for the Domine Deus from the B minor Mass. Conductor Richard Roddis joined Gillian von Fragstein in a soprano and tenor duet that positively skipped along.

The movements from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, sung by the choral sopranos and altos, were notable particularly for the firm but unhurried pacing of the opening, expressive tenderness in ‘O Quam Tristis’, precision and drive in ‘Fac ut Ardeat’ and finely sustained lines in the final movement. Bringing the men in on the final Amen, following a later four-voice arrangement, certainly had an electrifying effect, though it’s probably not the kind of thing you can do too often.

In Singet dem Herrn the intricacy of the first movement’s double-choir counterpoint tended to sound blurred, but things were a lot clearer in the antiphonal chorale-prelude second movement. The final section had lots of springy energy.

Bach’s so-called ‘Lutheran’ masses still don’t get the attention they deserve. So this performance of the Missa, BWV 234, was a welcome chance to hear music that had quite a few surprises in store. Not the least was the opening movement of the Gloria, whose constant switches of mood and pace (based on a movement from Cantata 67) sound like no other piece of Bach I know. It was all handled with freshness and vitality by the choir, including some fine soloists, supported by alert, stylish playing from The Bach Players, led by Nicolette Moonen, who was the expressive obbligato partner in the Domine Deus, as was flautist Rachel Beckett in the Qui Tollis.

Sinfonia Viva, Cathedral Green, Derby, 3.7.15

Thanks partly to a Capital Programme grant from Arts Council England, Sinfonia Viva is now the proud owner of its own pack-up-and-go concert hall. In the best ‘let’s do the show right here’ tradition, it was set up on Derby’s Cathedral Green for a series of launch events, beginning with a free lunchtime concert by eight of the orchestra’s players.

And they came up with a nicely varied programme, in terms of both style and instrumentation, starting with a bouncy account of the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Septet. In the fourth movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, poised introspection in the slower variations nicely pointed up the sprightly playing in the faster ones.

There aren’t so many trios for horn, clarinet, bassoon around that players can afford to overlook the Concert Trio by early nineteenth century Finnish/Swedish composer and clarinettist Bernhard Crusell. The last movement was given an elegant reading, as was the second movement of Jean Francaix’ Divertissement for bassoon and string quintet, capturing its wistful charm.

A deftly turned account of the finale of Mozart’s Horn Concerto 4 paved the way for the last movement of Schubert’s Octet, notable particularly for the way the players revelled in its more virtuosic moments.

And the structure itself? Well there are, naturally, some technical issues still to be sorted, but it’s made a promising debut, and it will be a huge asset as Viva tours the area bringing concerts, community and education projects to places that otherwise wouldn’t be catered for. I’m told the stage will expand to accommodate up to twenty players, so there’s potential for quite a variety of events.

So if you’re anywhere in the East Midlands, and even beyond, watch out for it coming to a patch of ground near you (it’s a striking shade of purple, you can’t miss it).

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