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Confident and musically expressive

Lakeland Sinfonia, March 2024 review

The Lakeland Sinfonia’s celebrations for Beethoven’s 250th anniversary in 2020 were cut short, and the concert on Saturday, 9th March, was the presentation of a programme originally devised for this event.

The players of the Lakeland Sinfonia, our local semi-professional orchestra, were in good form as they presented three of Beethoven’s masterpieces: Overture to Coriolan, Piano Concerto No. 4 and Symphony No. 7. These are, of course, all standard works in the repertoire of any professional orchestra but present more of a challenge for an orchestra that meets only occasionally and for a limited number of rehearsals. On this occasion, the orchestra met the challenge superbly under the baton of the very talented young visiting conductor, Melvin Tay. He gave the orchestra clear direction throughout the evening, and the players responded with confident, technically assured and musically expressive playing.

The Coriolan Overture got the concert off to a confident start. The string section played with a strong tone and provided the firm foundation necessary for the wind section. Throughout the evening there were some lovely woodwind solo passages played by section principals.

Martin Roscoe gave a very impressive account of the G major Piano Concerto, a work he must have played many times throughout his long career. Interestingly, he chose not to play the first movement cadenza normally heard (Beethoven wrote two) but a lesser-known one – perhaps his own! A good rapport with the orchestra is necessary in the second movement, where the two opposing forces are in dialogue with each other – one of Beethoven’s master strokes. Melvin Tay kept the strings’ rhythms tight, making the contrast between the lyrical and sonorous piano part very effective. The build-up of tension in this movement was finally released in the cheerful rondo that followed; Martin Roscoe gave us yet another demonstration of his seemingly effortless technique as he dashed off a further cadenza.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for the orchestra and conductor came in the second half of the programme with the performance of the great Seventh Symphony. There is always the danger that the rhythms in this symphony might flag: it’s a long work with many repetitions demanding great concentration and stamina. But flag, the rhythms certainly did not! Melvin Tay took the last movement at a great pace, and the orchestra kept up the momentum, which was really exciting to listen to. Beethoven asks for a really loud climax towards the end of the movement when, sometimes, some conductors ask the horn players to raise the bell of their instrument to allow more sound to escape. This did not happen in this performance: the effect of a raised bell would, perhaps, have made the end of the movement even more exciting. However, that said, this was a fine performance to bring the concert to a close.

Again, this concert was a reminder of how fortunate we are to have such a fine body of local musicians who can deliver such quality performances. Long may this situation prevail!

Clive Walkley

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