Put together a former winner of the BBC Musician of the Year, with an orchestra and conductor who gather accolades for every musical release and you have the promise of a great concert.
And so it proved. John Wilson formed the Sinfonia of London as a recording orchestra consisting of some of the most distinguished instrumentalists from around the country, but it has garnered so much prestige, building much demand for live concerts.
The programme was built around the music of Debussy and Ravel and those they influenced. It began with Walton’s wily overture ‘Scapino’ in which the brilliance of the orchestral palette was demonstrated in its lithe woodwinds and lean and sinewy strings. In Ravel’s ‘Valses nobles et sentimentales’ we could also appreciate the body and warmth of those strings, but I found the interpretation rather bold and beefy for a work that dwells in the shadowy regions of irony, poignancy and regret.
Then everyone was able to let their hair down in Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, the orchestra relishing their jazz inflections and Martin James Bartlett despatching the tricky piano part with great ebullience and virtuosity. He must have incorporated every cadenza from Gershwin’s own several recordings (there is no definitive score)! He also gave us as an encore a ravishing performance of one of Gershwin’s own song arrangements.
Yet incredibly the best was still to come in the second half. Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ is a real workout for any orchestra and the Sinfonia came through with flying colours, the dialogues and battles between sea, sun and storm vividly etched, and the final climax was properly incendiary.
Somehow the players found the stamina at the end of this demanding programme for the original ballet version of Ravel’s ‘Bolero’. This magnificently controlled performance grew in tension and inevitability, the players often literally on the edge of their seats, till it crashed to a thundering, standing ovation. You just have to catch this orchestra and conductor when they return next year with a programme of music from the musicals, a John Wilson speciality.