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A wonderful evening of music-making!

Royal Northern Sinfonia, February 2024 review

February 17, 2024

It was encouraging to see the Westmorland Hall almost full for the concert by the Northern Sinfonia on Saturday, 17th February. All who had braved the interminable rain were rewarded with a fine concert:  the Sinfonia on top form, directed by the hugely talented young conductor Dinis Sousa and a world-class piano soloist, Isata Kanneh-Mason. The perfect recipe for a wonderful evening of music-making!

            Hearing Schumann’s early ‘Zwickau’ Symphony in a live performance was an interesting experience. No doubt the orchestra played this because, during this season, they are presenting the complete cycle of Schumann symphonies at the Glasshouse in Newcastle. The performance was compelling in itself but did not convince us that this was one of the composer’s best works. It is brimful of interesting musical ideas that do not always cohere and form a satisfying whole. It was a good preparation, however, for what came next next, Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto.

            Like her brother’s ‘Zwickau’ Symphony, this is another rarely-heard work. Technically, it is hugely demanding, but Isata Kanneh-Mason made light of the difficulties. All the bravura passage work was played with apparent ease, and she produced a lovely cantabile line in the many melodic passages. One very impressive moment came in the slow movement when she exchanged roles with the principal cellist: he has a beautiful solo line that the piano must accompany. The partnership worked perfectly, and Isata graciously acknowledged his important contribution.

            The concert closed with Beethoven’s wonderful ‘Eroica’ Symphony. The orchestra – or at least its most experienced players – must have played the ‘Eroica’ many times over the years with different conductors, but there was no sense that this was a run-of-the-mill performance – exactly the opposite. Indeed, one of the most impressive features of this concert was the attention to detail on behalf of both the conductor and players. There was a fine example of this in the ‘Eroica’ just before the development section when the strings are marked pp and then crescendo, leading to a loud passage for full orchestra. The pp was magical in its effect, and by holding back the crescendo, Dinis Sousa achieved a thrilling climax. He is a dramatic conductor, very physical in his gestures, but he gets the results he wants as the orchestra responds. The performance was electrifying, releasing all the drama of this great work. The conductor and orchestra received rapturous applause, fully deserved!

Clive Walkley

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