Garry Walker: Conductor

Gina McCormack: Guest Violin Soloist

Review by Alan Cooper

Aberdeen Sinfonietta were at the very top of their form with a particularly attractive programme on Saturday afternoon. There was an overture by Rossini, Bruch’s First Violin Concerto and Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony, all of these well known, well loved pieces. In addition, representing the contemporary repertoire, was a work by the Scottish Composer John McLeod. It turned out to be very tasty indeed. Garry Walker was back as conductor, a superb orchestral technician, he is hugely popular with the orchestra, something that matters a great deal.

Let me begin with the work that was for me a special highlight of the whole performance. This was Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in g minor. Soloist Gina McCormack gave a radiant performance as near to perfection as is possible in this world. Throughout the entire work she made her violin sing out with delicious tonal quality and seductive romantic sweep. The opening was sheer perfection and the slow movement even better than that if such a comment is possible. Gina played the Finale with fabulous dexterity and ease. The orchestra lived up to the soloist’s performance with string crescendi that suggested something not unlike the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in full flood. Garry Walker exerted detailed control over the softer orchestral passages leaning forward and taking the orchestra right down to let the soloist come through although I think she would have soared above them anyway. I loved every moment of this performance and could not find fault with it.

The performance opened with a marvellously extrovert performance of Rossini’s Overture, The Barber of Seville. There were powerful incisive crescendi as well as string melodies that sang out gloriously. Oboist Geoffrey Bridge had the first of his many fine solos throughout the concert in this piece.

John McLeod’s Hebridean Dances (1982) married attractive folk melodies with, as the programme note explained ‘abundant energy’. This energy was particularly evident in the two fast moving opening movements ‘Going West’ in which the bassoon held the tune, and Dance to your Shadow with its incisive rhythms, its swirls and the trumpets holding the tune. The flute and violin were the attractive soloists in The Harp of Dunvegan while melody was further to the fore in ‘Barra Love Lilt’ and especially in ‘The Cocklegatherer’ which made a splendid conclusion to a work that was tuneful, rousing and yes, delightfully good humoured too.

The second half of the concert was devoted to a splendidly well coloured performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major Op. 88. The string playing was first class. The cellos and lower strings had fine warmth and resonance and the upper strings, the violins, were superbly clean and clear toned. So often in this work the woodwind provide shafts of light while the strings provide shade. This was especially so in the slow movement where it was as if we were taken through a shaded forest while the birds sing on high. Flautist Margaret Preston and oboist Geoffrey Bridge are surely worthy of special mention here.

The third movement Allegretto grazioso had the upper strings deliver the dance-like elegance of a glittering ballroom scene while in the Finale, Dvořák takes us outside into a forest clearing where a rustic dance is going on. The horns had special moments throughout the work but it was here they come into their own. Lets not forget the trumpets who open this movement but it is the thrilling trilling horns that suggest the sheer rustic energy of Dvořák’s folk dance ending. I remember a performance by an American orchestra many years ago during the Aberdeen International Youth Festival in which the conductor made the horns not only raise their bells but stand up too. I have never seen or heard this again and perhaps it was way over the top. Garry Walker led a much more decorous performance – nevertheless I still remember that American performance because it was such fun. I keep hoping to experience it again!