FRANK CLIFF St Andrew's Hall, Norwich
Playing without a conductor, as the Britten Sinfonia did at last night's concert, seemed to sharpen the orchestra's acute musical sensitivity. Directed in the first half by the violin by Jaqueline Shave, they first negotiated a work by Harrison Birtwistle, Bach Measures, with effortless ease. This is not Birtwistle at his most avant garde, rather an imaginative arrangement of eight chorale preludes from Bach's Orgelbüchlein, scored for woodwind, trumpet, trombone and horn, percussion and string quartet. While keeping fairly strictly to Bach's music Birtwistle creates magical sounds from this ensemble. Chamber music on a large scale, it proved a perfect vehicle to demonstrate the Sinfonia's quintessential quality of perfect ensemble playing.
It was not that long ago that a performance of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony without a conductor might have raised a few eyebrows, yet few conductors would have surpassed the Élan with which the Sinfonia tackled this piece. Perfect ensemble, even to the rubati in the minuet; the orchestral sound was brilliant throughout.
The distinguished pianist Imogen Cooper was the soloist in Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto If there was little evidence of her direction from the keyboard, with some noticeable fluffs in the last movement, it was nevertheless a performance sensitive to the poetry in this most intimate of Beethoven piano concertos, even though it missed a great deal of its grandeur.