Aberdeen Sinfonietta 13th November 2022 - Review






Sunday 13th November, 2022


Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) Symphony No. 8 in b minor “The Unfinished”

Josef Haydn (1732 – 1809) Trumpet Concerto in E flat

John McLeod (1934 – 2022) Prelude, Easter Carol & Finale from ‘Machar – Portrait of a Saint’

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) Symphony No. 40 in g minor K 550

It was great to be back once again in the Music Hall with Aberdeen Sinfonietta, for the second time this year in fact. They performed on Sunday under the baton of Garry Walker who is now firmly established as their Chief Conductor. As a special prelude to the main concert, Garry Walker asked the audience to stand for the National Anthem of Ukraine, performed in a full orchestral version arranged by John Hearne. Were there any Ukrainians in the audience? I do not know, but this would have been a special moment for them.

The concert itself began with Schubert’s ever popular ‘Unfinished Symphony’. I was impressed with the opening moments for lower strings, cellos and basses. Garry Walker took this quite slowly and thoughtfully. The strings gave us such deliciously quiet playing. It was so clean and clear. The upper strings responded in similar fashion. Was this thoroughly relaxed playing, well not really because they managed to create an essential suggestion of portent. The beautiful quiet opening helped to make later dramatic outbursts all the more telling. There were special moments for various sections. Glowing golden tones from the horns rang out spectacularly. I also noticed the oboe which at times sounded almost flute-like. This is a kind of special sound that you find in the best professional orchestras.

There was fine firm playing from the upper strings in the second movement to which Garry Walker gave a bounce. I was also impressed by sonorous pizzicatos from the cellos and basses, echoing deliciously through the undercurrents of the music. This is something that only happens when they are all precisely together, once again in the best orchestras. There was more great music to come but this was one of the best performances of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’ I have heard.

Alan Haggart has always been a trumpet player of distinction. I remember the soaring sounds he created, cutting through orchestral textures with the piccolo trumpet in performances of Bach and Handel. On Sunday however, here was a chance to hear him play the main trumpet in one of the most marvellous concertos for the instrument, Haydn’s ‘Concerto in E Flat’. His top notes rang out with soaring clarity lending the music a wonderful open air quality. Trills and dazzling fast runs were impeccable and the first movement cadenza was real edge of the seat stuff.

The second movement is marked ‘Andante cantabile’. Cantabile of course means ‘singing’ and that is precisely what Alan Haggart gave us. It is not at all easy to play a movement like this. The real brilliance of Haggart’s performance in this movement was how he made it feel so easy and so relaxed. Garry Walker got the orchestra to shadow the soloist so very nicely here. There was considerable attention to every detail of the music in the orchestral playing.

It is the final movement of the concerto that could be called the ‘earworm’ of the concerto. The conductor picked up on the jauntiness of Haydn’s music and of course Alan Haggart excelled in his ebullient playing of this joyously tuneful movement.

I was sorry to discover from the programme note that Aberdeen born composer John McLeod had passed away earlier this year. It was therefore fitting that Aberdeen Sinfonietta had decided to commemorate him by performing one of his most attractive pieces. These were three parts of his orchestral music drawn from his earlier Cantata, ‘The Chronicle of St Machar’ originally commissioned by Aberdeen Bach Choir. It was the Leader of Aberdeen Sinfonietta, Bryan Dargie who suggested to McLeod that perhaps he could create a purely orchestral piece on the subject of St Machar and so on Sunday, here were three parts of the composition, ‘Prelude, Easter Carol and the Finale’ from ‘Machar – Portrait of a Saint’. Portrait was indeed an apt word because this music was very painterly. Would it be wrong to say that there was just a touch of Hollywood colour in the broad sweep of the string playing? The ‘Easter Carol’ had more than a touch of bell chimes suggested by the strings. The percussion players of the orchestra, tympani with bass drum and more, including carillon, enjoyed some of the spotlight in this music.

Aberdeen Sinfonietta had chosen so many tuneful and attractive works for this concert. The final piece in the concert was Mozart’s most popular Symphony – No. 40 in g minor, K 550. In the opening movement, the upper strings were broad and proud and there was great playing from the woodwinds too. The second movement was initially a little faster than I have sometimes heard but the playing was singularly delicate too. Garry Walker worked hard with the orchestra throughout this piece. He underlined the phrasing of the music almost balletically and as for that second movement, he fairly made it swing.

The third movement minuet has marvellous contrapuntal surge about it. It is not really Bach, and yet? The more gentle trio section makes a delectable contrast. Garry Walker danced the orchestra on through a splendid ‘Finale’ to bring an excellent concert to a brilliant conclusion.

The upstairs of the Music Hall was reasonably well filled. Downstairs was certainly far from empty. This was a programme featuring some of the most attractive music performed to a professional standard. I look forward to the day when Aberdeen Sinfonietta play to a packed Music Hall. That is what they deserve, don’t you think?