St Cecilia 'Essential Classics' concert

Review of St Cecilia ‘Essential Classics’ concert

20 June 2023

A healthy audience gathered at Holy Trinity Church for a summery programme of Essential Classics, performed by St Cecilia Orchestra under the baton of Xenophon Kelsey.  Rossini’s ‘Silken Ladder’ Overture opened proceedings, with its mischievous, ubiquitous scales well played by the strings but particularly by oboist Alexia Owens.

The opening allegros were a little nervous in starting, which took a sliver of humorous sparkle off the end product, but the performance set the tone for the evening through careful balance between strings and winds, in ensemble but most impressively in dialogue.

The trademark ‘Rossini crescendos’ were exciting and the final note delightfully to the point, not outstaying its welcome by so much as a gnat’s crotchet.

St Cecilia 'Essential Classics' concert

Violinist Danny McCann-Williams (a former leader of the orchestra) and violist Katie Jarvis then teamed up for a graceful account of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, in a telling reminder of what the ensemble can produce from within its own ranks.  They were unanimous from their first octave leap together, relishing the musical conversation with well-matched singing tones and masterfully duetted cadenzas.  The orchestra impressed as accompanist, particularly in its own conversational dialogues; occasionally the solo viola was overshadowed by the winds, but the latter also gave delicious colouring to Mozart’s harmonies and warmed the crescendos effectively.

strings’ pizzicatos were crisp in the Allegro maestoso, while the lower strings gave a noble underpinning at the start of the Andante; if it took a page or so for this movement’s pulse to feel truly in three, the strings as a whole were gently sonorous and the general sforzandos finely judged.  The Presto was crisp from the very start, full of energy and humour, with pleasing interjections from the winds.  The intricate dynamics were very well executed and the joyful energy maintained until the very end.

St Cecilia 'Essential Classics' concert

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 followed the interval, with trumpets and timpanist Ian Matthews giving tasteful reinforcement to the composer’s many accents.  The first movement’s introduction, once settled, showed nobility, building tension steadily until the Allegro first subject breezed in; the second subject was coloured by a wonderfully earthy combination of clarinets, bassoons and horns.  As throughout the evening, the qualities of dialogue and balance were particularly accomplished, while the many accents and sudden dynamic drops made excellent virtue of this venue’s drier acoustic.

In the Larghetto, one of Beethoven’s longer slow movements, the orchestra held the thread of the music with a steady grace, Kelsey placing the corners exquisitely and his players finding a sublime degree of ensemble.  The Scherzo had energy and wit, crucially maintaining the pace through the subito fortissimo eighth bar, although the exposed passage work preceding it only truly settled in the Da Capo.  That said, the strings’ and flutes’ quavers were thrilling, as were the driving crescendos later on.

The woodwind’s ensemble was excellent in the trio, maintaining the sense of dance, while the dynamic drop at the end of the Trio was delightfully cheeky.  Once the ‘hiccuping’ main theme of the Finale found its stride, the natural humour flowed effortlessly.  Highlights of this movement included the organ-like chords of the woodwind and staccato arpeggios from Charles Miller on bassoon, while the momentum was kept gloriously to the end – matching the Rossini with a wonderfully unpaused final chord.

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