Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prom 43: City of London Sinfonia/Hickox @ Royal Albert Hall, London

17 August 2008

Richard Hickox

Richard Hickox

Concert 43 epitomised Promenade eclecticism: a Mozart symphony, some bracing Beethoven, a nod to the anniversary composer, and a nourishing modern work. Most of these pieces were anthemic in parts much flirtation with the majestic C major key though some more explicitly than others. But the steadying force behind this somewhat incongruous programme was the City of London Sinfonia under its eminent founder Richard Hickox.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 34 in C major kicked things off. At first glance it seems predictably grandiose, with an impressive brass and timpani outfit, but proves surprisingly demure, with especially delicate shading in the ‘Andante di molto’ section. It was beautifully paced and Hickox managed to command an assertive performance from his orchestra without damaging the intricacy of the piece.

Vaughan Williams’ Flos campi exploits an unusual and, at its conception in 1925, unprecedented grouping of solo viola, chorus and small orchestra. In this take on the biblical ‘Song of Solomon’ he explores the same unsettling mixture of the sacred, sinister and sexy that Richard Strauss had twenty years earlier in Salome. The six interlocking sections have an almost filmic quality and Lawrence Power, negotiating the viola line with terrific verve, subtly revealed the instrument’s relationship with the wordless chants and the flute and oboe, which veer between slithering compliance and agitative discord.

Short though it is, Nigel Osborne’s Flute Concerto respects a traditional tripartite structure, though its movements are free-flowing, and it showcases the solo instrument’s muscular abilities alongside its clich├ęd flightiness. Swoops and chuffs compete against furious bowing in the first section (which owes something to Flight of the Bumblebee) giving way to a languid and woody interlude before the swarm returns in the finale. It is a tremendously dynamic score, which Israeli flautist Sharon Bezaly performed to great effect, and it comes as no surprise to learn that Richard Alston was inspired to choreograph the piece for Ballet Rambert.

The evening concluded with Beethoven’s Mass in C. Prince Nicolaus II had the bombastic late-eighteenth-century mass tradition in mind when he commissioned this piece but Beethoven gave him little of Haydn’s pomposity: this ‘Agnus Dei’ fades with a whimper. The four soloists performed well under Hickox’s dependable baton; of particular note were Rebecca Evans, who showed off a wonderfully sweet-tone and smooth legato in the soprano role, and Matthew Rose, who provided a strong and consistent bass. Impressive, too, were the BBC Singers, combining warm expression with technical ability in the choral parts.

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Prom 43: City of London Sinfonia/Hickox @ Royal Albert Hall, London