Sinfonia of Birmingham
Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon ****
“Of course he was a wonderful player, that goes without saying, but he was also permanently in a good mood which is much rarer!”. This warm quotation by Sir Simon Rattle, included in the programme about Gwyn Williams, a lynchpin of the viola section of the CBSO for so many years, captured the spirit of the man who was celebrated in this concert given in aid of the Gwyn Williams Bursary for Young Viola Players, inaugurated in 2017 in Williams’ memory.
Williams believed passionately in encouraging and furthering the careers of young viola players, and he surely would have been satisfied with tonight’s soloist, Leeloo Creed, who is one of the promising young players whom the Bursary has supported. Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G – one of the earliest examples of a concerto for solo viola – explores the full breadth of this versatile instrument, with Creed’s understated authority and poise delivering a performance that brought out a richness of tone and colour, especially in the lower register, no doubt delighting the maker of her instrument William Piper who was present in the audience.
There was much to enjoy in this all-strings concert programme given by the Sinfonia of Birmingham, celebrating their 30th anniversary season, and characterfully led by Julia Åberg. The variety of texture, colour and mood in Peter Warlock’s ‘Capriol Suite’ was perfectly captured, along with the humour in movements like ‘Tordion,’ with actor Kevin Whately’s spoken interspersions adding interesting context.
The yearning melancholy of ‘Sentimental Sarabande’ in Britten’s ‘Simple Symphony’ (a piece that, in totality, is anything but ‘simple’ to play) was affectingly communicated, with a fine rendition of the Sarabande’s beautiful melody from the violas and cellos, whilst there was also a nod to Shakespeare with the inclusion of two pieces from Walton’s Henry V Suite – appropriate given that we were sitting in the Bard’s church.
The ‘Praeludium’ of Grieg’s ‘Holberg Suite’ bubbled away effervescently, although I would have preferred a more ‘fleet-of-foot’ feel in some of the other movements. The concert concluded with what was a highlight: Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, from its sonorous viola opening to a loving performance of the ‘Larghetto’ given by the Sinfonia’s committed players.
Conductor Christopher Morley, clearly enjoying his return to the podium, directed the ensemble with empathy and encouragement throughout.