Review: Aberdeen Sinfonietta at High Church, Hilton Saturday 17th Nov 2018


JOHN FREDERICK HUDSON: Conductor and Composer
DREW ANDREATTA: Percussion Soloist
BRYAN DARGIE: Orchestra Leader

I am aware that George Gershwin has already copyrighted this title for one of his songs, but the ideal overall title for Saturday afternoon’s concert by Aberdeen Sinfonietta would be ‘Fascinating Rhythm’. It describes precisely what lay at the core of all three works in the programme. Yes, even Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony – at least in Saturday’s sizzling performance. The central work was of course centred on rhythm. It was ‘Beyond the Silence’ a concerto for percussion and orchestra receiving its World Première on Saturday afternoon. The soloist was the talented American percussionist Drew Andreatta whose poised and confident performance set the seal on what I thought was an absolutely wonderful new work deserving of full international exposure.

To open the concert, however we heard a dazzling full-colour performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Divertimento Op. 43. Prokofiev is one of those amazing composers who wrote so much music and all of it top rank in quality. It would probably take me a much longer lifetime than Prokofiev himself had just to copy it all down, and that without me using any of my imagination at all.
The opening of the Divertimento has a startling eruption with rasping notes ripping through from the bass trombone. If this sounds like a negative comment – no, it is not! It is exactly what the composer wanted and it occurs several more times in the piece. The strings too had a certain edginess in their tone which was just right for this music. The programme note mentions ‘its angularity, its dissonances, its lyricism, its strong rhythmic drive’. Three of these things marked the first movement – not that much the lyricism though. That was to follow in the second movement. There were marvellous instrumental solos, from leader Bryan Dargie,  the clarinet and especially the oboe played by Geoffrey Bridge – welcome back to the orchestra Geoffrey.
In the second movement marked ‘Nocturne’ we got the lyricism with the flute atop smooth strings in melodic writing which still had just the right edginess to it.
That rasping trombone was back in the third movement labelled ‘Dance’. Nice incisive playing from all including the timpani. The finale was a marvellous marriage of melody and rhythm. Originally intended as ballet music, once more, as the programme note explained, there were multiple changes of mood: ‘violent, dreamy, comical’. Above all, it was strongly coloured characterful instrumental writing. John Frederick Hudson took the first, third and final movements faster than a couple of versions I found on the internet. I think I preferred his version and the more incisive full colour playing of Aberdeen Sinfonietta.

Beyond the Silence’, John Frederick Hudson’s percussion concerto, started with a dry sounding rattle of drumsticks from the soloist and a beat of the gong. Rhythm was of prime importance for the orchestra, every bit as much as for the soloist. Throughout the orchestra in the first movement there were tiny dots and stabs, glorious little splashes of instrumental colour played with marvellous precision. Chiming percussion bowls from the soloist sounded quite amazing. The second movement was largely a slowly unwinding marimba solo from Drew Andreatta, seductively played. Geoffrey Bridge was back on oboe as well as Ailsa Matheson on clarinet and a particularly lovely cello solo from Alison MacDonald. Pizzicato lower strings including violas opened the finale. There was lovely quiet string writing, more marimba leading to a grand crescendo and then a quiet ending with a beat of the gong taking us back to the start of the piece and with our splendid soloist signing off with just a couple of notes on the marimba. Where does John Hudson get all his ideas from? Some people say that I use a lot of imagination in my reviews. They do not intend this as a compliment. Regarding the imagination that John employs in his compositions, it is exactly that!

It was the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major Op. 92 that captured the imagination of his first audience for the work. He had to encore this movement and in the early days it was often performed on its own. Apparently it was with this symphony that Beethoven was able to pay off all his debts.
There was marvellous smooth playing from the cellos and lower strings in this movement later on quite literally providing the heartbeat of the music. When the full orchestra came in I was impressed by the vehemence of the front row of the cellos, Alison MacDonald and Bill Linklater as they belted out their melody. The Presto third movement was light and full of joy. Wagner is reported as calling the symphony ‘the apotheosis of the dance’. For me though, what the first and last movements conjured up was a troupe of horseback riders galloping through the woods with the hunting horns in full cry. Well done Sinfonietta horns. In the final movement the galloping picked up speed to an amazing level of excitement. There is an early description of Beethoven conducting this movement, flapping his arms and jumping up and down. Hudson did neither, but he still got Sinfonietta to give of their best.

Review by Alan Cooper
19th November 2019