Aberdeen Sinfonietta 15th April 2022 - Review


Sunday 15th May 2022 at 3:00pm

Garry Walker Conductor

Laurence Perkins Guest bassoon soloist in Weber Bassoon Concerto

Bryan Dargie Leader


Carl Maria von Weber: Overture Der Freischütz

Carl Maria von Weber: Bassoon Concerto in F op.75

Beethoven: Finale from ‘The Creatures of Prometheus’ Ballet Music

Otto Nicolai: Overture ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’

Brahms: Hungarian Dance No.5 arr. Martin Schmeling (1864 – 1943)

Sibelius: Karelia Suite Op.11

Aberdeen Sinfonietta had a smaller concert recently in High Hilton Parish Church directed by Leader Bryan Dargie. That was an excellent performance but it was finer still to find them back on top form in Aberdeen’s Music Hall on Sunday afternoon 15th May, for a full concert. It opened with an orchestral arrangement by John Hearne of ‘Shche ne vmerla Ukrainy' (in English, Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished), the Ukrainian National Anthem. Some of us stood up, but rather few, which I think was a pity.

Garry Walker who over the years has become established as the orchestra’s regular professional conductor was back with them on Sunday after nearly three years. The orchestra respond so well to him and they seem to like him. Can I be allowed to speak for the audience? I think we like him too.

We also had a first class concerto soloist on, dare I say, an unusual instrument, the bassoon. Laurence Perkins introduced Weber’s Bassoon Concerto Op.75 by telling us that it followed on so well from the work that opened the concert, Weber’s operatic par excellence Overture Der Freischütz. Although the Bassoon Concerto is simply an instrumental work, he said, it has a certain operatic feel to it, full of drama and lyricism. This, we were soon to discover was absolutely true in today’s performance. Over nearly sixty years of regular concert going, I can only remember something like three live performances of Weber’s music, so it was a special treat to find that Aberdeen Sinfonietta had programmed two of his finest pieces to start the concert.

The Overture Der Freischütz opened quietly but with a sense of dramatic portent, a proper curtain raiser. The French horns offered the first of many impactful performances that were to follow throughout so much of Sunday’s concert. Aberdeen Sinfonietta showed that they were back on their best form delivering all the variety, the melody and the drama of this marvellous piece.

In the Bassoon Concerto, the two outer movements, both marked by the instruction Allegro, demanded virtuoso finger-work from our soloist, and that is exactly what we got from Laurence Perkins. In the first movement, dazzling runs of notes had a delicious burbling sound particular to the bassoon. It was a beautifully well shaped performance and in the Rondo finale, to all that which had gone before, was added an attractive melodic outpouring of dance music. However, it was the central Adagio that had me completely seduced, especially where the bassoon was joined by two horns, a sound combination that worked so brilliantly well.

To complete the first half, the orchestra back up to nearly full strength, gave us a performance of Beethoven’s Finale from ‘The Creatures of Prometheus’. Would I be wrong in saying that Beethoven is not a composer that you would normally associate with ballet music but in Sunday’s performance elegant purling melody lines interspersed by dramatic orchestral thrusts certainly had something balletic about it.

I enjoyed the first half of the concert but two audience members beside me said that it was the second half that they had enjoyed most. Later on, others I spoke to agreed with them. Perhaps the second half was a bit of a musical ‘pick and mix’ but all three works had a couple of things in common. They were packed full of rich and attractive melodic content, some of it familiar which always goes down well with an audience. Secondly, all three were splendidly bright and celebratory works. In any case, this was a perfect choice of programme for a Sunday afternoon concert. It made me think of bandstands and sunlit parks, an atmosphere that Aberdeen Sinfonietta brought into the Music Hall with their sunlit performance.

In Otto Nicolai’s Overture ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ the string playing was excellent but the brass, especially once again the horns and a magnificent percussion section, really shone through, and towards the conclusion let’s not forget the trumpets and trombones.

The Hungarian Dance No.5 by Brahms had its fantastic familiar tune and the multiple changes of tempo controlled by Garry Walker were responded to with absolute perfection by the orchestra.

Horns, trumpets and percussion shone in the opening Intermezzo of the Karelia Suite op. 11. In the following Ballade there was gloriously rich string playing harmonically reminiscent of Finlandia, coloured by lovely touches of woodwind. Towards the end of the movement, pizzicato lower strings and cor anglais gave us a special moment of enjoyment.

The finale, Alla Marcia had a fine moment from two flutes and a piccolo adding a superb piquancy to the orchestral mix. However it was the full orchestra that really sold us this Finale and we were so pleased when responding to the applause of the audience, Garry Walker gave us a splendid repeat performance of this final movement.

Review by Alan Cooper