Sinfonia of Birmingham excels in Warwick

A STUNNING SINFONIA CONCERT IN SUN-BATHED ST MARY'S, WARWICK


SINFONIA OF BIRMINGHAM
St Mary's Church, Warwick ****

Glorious evening sunshine glinting through the windows onto mellow ancient stonework is one thing, but its direct shining into the eyes of some of the orchestra members was undoubtedly quite a challenge – but one to which the players rose heroically (no doubt inspired by the symphony under performance, Beethoven's Eroica).
This was the final offering in a concert from the excellent Sinfonia of Birmingham, the final offering in what has been a remarkably successful Warwick and Leamington Midsummer Music Festival. Orchestral tone was rich in this soaring acoustic, the building's very spaciousness perhaps the cause of the few examples of imprecise ensemble, conductor Michael Seal secured a wide range of dynamics (some remarkable pianissimi) and articulation throughout this perforcedly short evening, and had obviously rehearsed so meticulously that in the white heat of performance he had such confidence in his forces that he could indulge spontaneous flights of fantasy.
More often providing the encore, Sibelius' Valse Triste here was the pipe-opener, Seal's deliberate opening tempo evoking a ghostly other-world, only gradually speeding up into a fully-fledged evocation of a haunted ballroom. Concertmaster Julia Aberg did a remarkable job in leading her colleagues through the various nuances of Seal's interpretation., and it was just unfortunate that an imperious timpani roll overpowered the sorrowing low-registered strings just before the end.
The Sinfonia's response to the Beethoven Third Symphony was exhilarating evidence that they knew they were tackling the world's greatest symphony. Taut and springy, the mighty first movement brought a palpable tension to the busy fugato building to the huge outburst of dissonance which is its pivotal moment, Seal finding great depths of mystery in the coda. With a bravely sustained slow speed, the Marcia Funebre revealed intricate layers of detail, horns sounded terrific in the scherzo's Trio, and though I had wished Seal would have burst straight into the subsequent finale, he secured a spirited and virtuosic account to round off an exceptionally rewarding evening.
Christopher Morley

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