REVIEW: Aberdeen Sinfonietta String Ensemble at Phoenix Hall, Sunday 25th Feb 2018

BRYAN DARGIE: Director and Violin Soloist 

ANDREW LEADBETTER: Keyboard and HILARY CROMAR: Cello – Continuo Group



ALISON MACDONALD: Cello Soloist and Continuo

The Phoenix Centre, Newton Dee, Bieldside

Robert Minett, Chairman of the Aberdeen Sinfonietta Trust welcomed a more than capacity audience, with many extra chairs having to be brought in to the Phoenix Hall at Newton Dee for Sunday’s Concert given by the strings of Aberdeen Sinfonietta. Aberdeen’s own special orchestra has grown in size and instrumental reach since its earliest days, but Director Bryan Dargie introduced the Concert by telling us that on Sunday, the orchestra was going back to the size and repertoire of its earliest days with music by the great Baroque Masters J. S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and G. F. Handel. Yes indeed, and in the opening piece in the concert, J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major BWV 1048, there were just eleven players, more or less the same number often fielded by the Scottish Ensemble.

The Brandenburg Concerti are miracles of the composer’s imagination, each of them so different. Number 3 is a virtual apotheosis of Baroque string writing. The propulsive energy of the opening movement was captured by the players with perfect rhythmic steadiness. As Bryan Dargie said in his introduction, all the players in this piece had to behave as soloists and I loved the way in which at one point, a motif was played by the first violin and then carried across the orchestra by the players, one after another. A short cadence led to the final movement which was even more lively, even more exciting than the first.

In the second work, Vivaldi’s Concerto for Violin, Cello and Strings, the soloists were Bryan Dargie and Alison MacDonald with the continuo group, Hilary Cromar cello and Andy Leadbetter, keyboard (effectively harpsichord), of especial importance in the second movement. Bryan and Alison melded together splendidly and in the final movement with its delightful lolloping rhythm, the return of the full orchestra was really titillating.

The second and third movements of Bach’s 6th and final Brandenburg Concerto in Bb Major BWV1051 let the violin players have a rest while the solos were played by Sandra Campbell and Jonathan Kightley on violas and Alison MacDonald on cello. The darker warm blend of the violas was particularly delicious - the musical equivalent of dark chocolate - and in the third movement, the cello had a more than normally exciting part emerging time after time from its continuo role to give a wonderfully busy backing to the violas. The two violas then indulged together in tantalizing musical conversation while the cellos gave enthusiastic to and fro swinging support.

Back to Vivaldi and his amazing Concerto for four Violins, Cello, Harpsichord and Strings. Bryan Dargie was the principal violin soloist. He was supported by fine performances from Jean Fletcher, Ruth Kalitski and Guera Maunder. The cello once again had a continuo role though more than usually complex with as usual, exceptionally fine playing from Alison MacDonald. It was in the second movement that all four violinists really came to the fore. The third movement had chattering rhythms which in the fourth became a lively leaping dance.

The final work in the programme was G. F. Handel’s Concerto Grosso in A. This was a marvellous piece full of rhythmic variety, leaping, swinging and so much more. Its four movements seemed to sum up and set the seal on everything that had come before. This had been a joyfully extrovert performance. The musicians seemed to enjoy themselves every bit as much as the audience surely did!

Review by Alan Cooper