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Arnold Sinfonia - autumn concert

By David Hart at Haverhill Arts Centre, Sunday, November 15 on Monday, 16th November 2009.

It is not often that a classical programme features six works by different composers, all written within a dozen years or so.

Arnold Sinfonia gave us this fascinating view of music from the 1930s and 40s in a varied programme of string pieces from England and America in the first half, and Germany in the second.

A dozen years is stretching a point slightly in the case of Delius' Two Aquarelles, first composed in 1917 for wordless chorus, but arranged for strings in 1932 by Eric Fenby.

Holst's Brook Green Suite dates from 1933, Aaron Copland's Quiet City from 1939, Lennox Berkeley's Serenade from the same year, Alan Rawsthorne's Light Music For Strings from 1938 and Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen from 1945.

It is not surprising that the charm and delicacy of the pieces from the earlier years should have been superseded by darker, more ominous and eventually tragic material inspired by the shadows of war.

The orchestra captured these two contrasting elements particularly well. The freshness of the Prelude in the Holst, and the purity of its Air, led on to conductor Kevin Hill's typically pellucid reading of the Delius Aquarelles.

Colour was drained from the scene with a fine performance of Copland's Quiet City, in which trumpeter Cameron Todd and cor anglais player Daniel Bates joined the orchestra to tread the haunting streets of the city at night like the underscoring of a film noir.

In the Berkeley, again the journey from the lively Vivace opening to the doom-laden final Lento was well charted.

Even Rawsthorne's so-called 'light music' betrayed in its Catalan tunes the composer's sympathies in the Spanish Civil War, and here the Iberian rhythms were particularly well defined, pulling us away from the unmistakeable 'Englishness' of the earlier pieces.

This was good preparation, because after the interval we were in far more complex and demanding territory with Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen, in the original version for 23 solo strings.

This is a piece which benefits from being seen as well as heard, as one can follow the musical argument from solo to solo and group to group, like a giant piece of chamber music.

Hill and the orchestra stepped up to the plate here with some very expressive playing, the lament for Germany's vanished past being plaintively argued, as though it were underscoring those familiar images of Berlin in 1945. But the piece's many intricacies were also well detailed, retaining interest throughout what can become a rather bland, extended dirge.

In all, this was fascinating and well-planned programme, generally well executed, and made for a thought-provoking evening.

Haverhill Online News

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