ABERDEEN SINFONIETTA with CON ANIMA
Sunday 19th November 2023, Music Hall, Aberdeen
Garry Walker: Conductor
Moira Docherty: Soprano
Tara Leiper: Alto
Mikhail Verbytskyi (1851 – 1870) Щe He Bмepлa Ykpїни The National Anthem of Ukraine arr. John Hearne
George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759) Overture and Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) Gloria in D RV589
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) Symphony No. 3 in E flat op. 55 “Eroica”
Aberdeen Sinfonietta were at their expected best for their Autumn Concert in Aberdeen’s Music Hall. For this concert, they were to be joined by Con Anima Chamber Choir, bringing together the very best the City has to offer in both instrumental and choral music-making. The upstairs in the Music Hall was well filled. Downstairs was all right but considering the quality of the performances we were about to enjoy, I would have been happy to see it packed. Nevertheless, there is nowhere else in Aberdeen that would have been able to accommodate Sunday’s audience.
As has been a regular feature of these concerts, the music began with The National Anthem of Ukraine and this year, with Con Anima in attendance onstage, the words of the Anthem were also sung. I was pleased that conductor Garry Walker asked us all to stand for the Anthem. In previous years, myself and a few others did stand, this year everyone did.
Then, it was time for the concert proper to begin. The Overture from Handel’s oratorio Solomon is quite extensive and in several parts. It was an opportunity for Sinfonietta’s string players to show just what they could do. The playing was wonderfully clean, clear and well balanced. Blair Cargill added the spicing of harpsichord sound albeit on an electronic instrument. A pair of oboes were also there in the overture but it was in the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba that they had their moments centre stage as it were, and they were excellent. A sizzlingly fine performance indeed.
As the late James Lobban wrote in his excellent note reproduced in Sunday’s programme, Vivaldi’s Gloria is in 12 sections beginning with the full chorus with strings oboe and trumpet, that latter played with considerable delicacy by Alan Haggart. The blend of instruments and chorus was perfectly well balanced, clean, bright and exhilarating. Our two female voice soloists Moira Docherty and Tara Leiper blended nicely in the Laudamus Te. Tara Leiper though an alto had to sing second soprano here and it worked pleasingly.
In the Domine Deus soprano soloist Moira Docherty was supported by a delicious blend of oboe, harpsichord, cello and double bass. That was a highlight of the performance. Tara’s first solo opened with a delightful cello solo played by Alison MacDonald, and you don’t get better than that. The second alto solo had to contend with full orchestra but I think she did well. Throughout the work, orchestra and chorus were splendid and in the fugal ending, Cum Sancto Spiritu the music really took off brilliantly. Can I say that throughout the singing, the sopranos soared skyward magnificently and both tenors and basses were excellent. You don’t always get that with some choirs but then Con Anima are special, being numerically perfectly well balanced.
I have heard numerous performances of Beethoven’s Eroica. Some of these have been heavy and wet so I was not sure what to expect. Well, Sunday’s performance was conducted with real razzle-dazzle spirit by Garry Walker. He put his whole body into a sprightly, animated first movement that for me was a revelation. There were things that stood out in this performance that I had hardly noticed before, things that made sense in Beethoven’s writing, things that had simply passed me by in some other performances.
Throughout the symphony there were splendid moments of solo playing, horn, flutes and later clarinet. The strings were marvellous with melodies that swept past in that first movement almost as if we were in a fast train with the music whizzing past, and yet nothing was lost. The second movement was slower and as the programme note stated ‘with an almost tangible sense of deep tragedy’ and yet, with the way in which Sinfonietta’s strings delivered Beethoven’s delicious melody, I could only feel optimistic.
In the Scherzo, Sinfonietta’s delightful horn trio took us out on a hunting expedition. There was a marvellous sense of the open air in this performance.
For the final movement, Garry Walker brought back the full energy he had brought to the first movement of the Symphony. Every section of the orchestra excelled. Horns called out to the trumpets who replied and let’s not forget the splendid Isabel John on timpani. That is a part of the orchestra in Beethoven’s time that gives the music its very heartbeat along perhaps with the three double basses on Sunday. Above all, what contributed to the success of this particular performance was that the orchestra was exactly the right size.