Review: Classical music by Mike Wheeler

Sinfonia Viva, Guildhall Theatre, Derby 

For Sinfonia Viva’s now annual curtain-raiser to Derby Folk Festival, the string section was on stage at the Guildhall Theatre for another get-together of the folk music and classical worlds.

Directed by leader Benedict Holland, the players pitched into the dance rhythms of Holst’s St Paul’s Suite with appealing incisiveness and vitality.

Armeninan composer Aleksandr Arutiunian’s Violin Concerto was composed following an earthquake in north-west Armenia in 1988. It responds, not with raw grief, but a more dignified, sombre lyricism, with room for life-affirming native folk music elements. Benedict Holland and his colleagues judged the expressive tone exactly right.  

They brought both liveliness and elegance to the baroque-style dances of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, with the concluding Rigaudon kicking up its heels in a nicely bouncy fashion. Amid the earthy excitement of Bartok’s Romanian Dances they found an appealingly tender frailty in the two middle dances.

Derby Chamber Music: Aquinas Piano Trio, Multi-Faith Centre, Derby University

As in previous years, Derby-born cellist, and patron of Derby Chamber Music, Katherine Jenkinson (pictured above) was on hand with one of her many ensembles to launch DCM’s new season. This time, it was as a member of the Aquinas Trio, opening with a delightful surprise for most of the audience, Piano Trio No 2, by Spanish composer Joaquín Turina. The switches from laid-back elegance to ebullient energy were deftly realised. 

Schumann’s Trio No 3 is not that well-known either, but the players were completely at home with its emotional range, pressing forward and easing back as appropriate, and keeping the most intricately-scored passages clear and transparent.

After the interval we were on more familiar ground with Beethoven’s so-called Archduke’ Trio. The musicians were a match for anything the composer threw at them – sudden switches of mood, rhythmic dislocations, and so on – with a nose for whatever might be below the surface. From breathtaking stillness to fierce humour, it was all in place.

Derby Concert Orchestra, St Peter’s Church, Littleover, Derby

Poulenc’s witty, elegant Sinfonietta got a rare outing from Derby Concert Orchestra and assistant conductor Andrew Hubbard. 

While the performance could, at times, have taken a lighter touch, the scherzo second movement was kept nicely bubbly, and the poignant switch in the first movement from ebullience to a tenderly exquisite melancholy was beautifully realised.

Conductor Jonathan Trout took over for the rest of the programme, beginning with Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto. 

Soloist George Strickland’s plangent upper register and fluency in running passages were particularly striking. 

The DCO strings were eloquent in support, apart from a shaky moment in the finale, which was quickly put right. 

Williams’ mature wisdom made an apt contrast with the Second Symphony by that young tearaway, Beethoven. 

In a reading full of vitality, orchestra and conductor switched adroitly from smoothness to turbulence in the second movement, and in the finale resisted the temptation to just go hell-for-leather from bar one; it was all the more effective for it.