On the eve of tonight’s concert, a valued member of the Hallam Sinfonia sadly passed away. The dancing flute passages in Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream were dedicated to Judith Mellor, former Chair of the Orchestra and flautist for over forty years.
The overture was taken at a tempo that allowed Mendelssohn’s textural clarity to shine through. Many performances are simply too fast, sacrificing the finer detail, but tonight’s conductor, Natalia Luis-Bassa, offered an elegantly classical approach. A wonderful singing tone emanated from the well-balanced orchestra.
The performers played crisply in the Scherzo, and with a togetherness that shows they were clearly well rehearsed. Occasionally, accents could have been even more exaggerated to add to the comic element.
The warm, lyrical Nocturne contrasted with the Wedding March, which was delivered in a stately manner. Although it is tempting to overdo the sense of celebration with blazing brass and percussion, there was an admirable display of restraint which brought out the colourful imagery in the composer’s score.
Equally picturesque was Gareth Widdowson’s A Winter Fantasia which opened the concert. Receiving its première, it exploited the qualities of the orchestra to great effect. There was a wonderful string sound in the Shostakovich-like opening, which captured the eerie winter darkness. In a more dreamlike section, the harp produced flourishes akin to Tchaikovsky and the piccolo gave the illusion of raindrops. The audible gust of wind outside the venue as soon as the piece finished was fitting.
Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique was the final work on the programme, again sparking the imagination. The opening movement ,‘Rêveries’, was dramatic, with a delightfully warm balance achieved, in spite of some intonation problems from the high strings. ‘Un bal’ was elegant, again with some wonderful harp playing, but a lack of togetherness from the woodwind was forgotten by ‘Scène aux champs’, which contained some wonderful solos, as well as dramatic timpani playing.
The last two movements were undoubtedly the strongest. ‘March au supplice’ was performed with enjoyment, with a wild concoction of triumphant and sinister playing, and ‘Songe d’une nuit de sabbat’ delivered a dance feel. The menacing statements of the Dies Irae prepared for an almost brutal ending, which led some audience members to give a standing ovation.