A cold night and very little heating in St Mary In The Castle seemed to reflect the three northern composers, though the warmth of the music and the immediacy of the scores certainly made up for any drop in temperature.
This was essentially a concert for string orchestra, which drew on the ensemble strengths of the ensemble and the excellent balance which they create.
It was also unusual for its guest conductor Scott Sandmeier, making a welcome addition to the many professional musicians working with the company. His light touch and accurate control showed fine rapport with his players.
The concert opened with Grieg’s Holberg Suite, the Praeludium providing bite and the Gavotte really bouncy rhythms. The Sarabande reflected a more English serenity with overtones of Finzi. After the interval we moved from Norway to Finland with Sibelius’ highly introspective Impromptu For Strings before the familiar warmth of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade For Strings. The emotional impact of this, after the Sibelius and the Philip Glass was most touching.
But it was Philip Glass’ Tirol Concerto which really blew the cobwebs away. This is an unusual work as only the long second movement feels like Glass’ core minimalist compositions. It has a wonderfully timeless quality, based on a gently unfolding Passacaglia which the pianist elaborates and entwines in ever-evolving musical lines which never reach a conclusion. It is as far from conventional melodic creation as one could wish, and does not so much end as simply stop. Magnificently played by Stephanie Gurga, she also brought a lively humour to the outside movements where Glass indulges himself in jazzy rhythms and syncopations. It is surprising the work is not far better known. It would have made a splendid addition to the heavily romantic agenda for the Piano Concerto Competition! By Brian Hick, with photography by Peter Mould.