Diamond Jubilee Concert By West London Sinfonia

A feast of British music, says our reviewer Phoebe Woollam


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The concert given on Saturday(May 26th) by the West London Sinfonia was in honour of the Queen’s Jubilee and gave us a feast of British music both traditional and contemporary. The programme was extremely challenging but exceptionally well played under the skilful baton of their conductor Philip Hesketh. The West London Sinfonia plays with tremendous energy and exuberance and has the ability to communicate their enthusiasm to the audience.

What is it I wonder that gives English music such a distinctive voice? (I should say British music in fact because, on Saturday night, Neil Esslemont had a starring role playing the bag pipes in Maxwell Davies An Orkney wedding, with Sunrise). Holst and Vaughan Williams actively used English folk music as an inspiration, but every piece we heard at this concert had an authentic British sound.

The evening started appropriately with a new arrangement of the national anthem by the local composer John Carmichael. It was full of refreshing, innovative ideas and ended with a traditionally harmonised final verse.

There then followed Floreat Oriana written by another local celebrity, the composer Cecilia McDowall. What a wonderful piece this was. It was music with a strong Elizabethan flavour, handled with great subtlety and skill given that she was writing for such a large orchestra. There were also some lovely brass moments including witty trombone slides.

The five Courtly Dances from “Gloriana” come from the opera written by Benjamin Britten for the Queen’s coronation in 1953. These were followed by the most sublime performance of Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” given by Fenella Humphreys, an outstandingly sensitive player. Most unfortunately the breathtakingly beautiful ending was compromised by the loud ticking of the church clock. It must have been very distracting for her but it certainly did not detract from her wonderful playing.

Holst’s St Paul’s Suite, written for the opening of the new music wing at St Paul’s Girls’ School where he was Director of Music, is a charming piece in four sections, a great favourite with players and audiences alike.

Maxwell Davies’ “An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise, complete with frequent “scotch snaps”, unruly playing (as the guests get progressively drunk) and the dramatic entrance of the pipes at its end, was an exhilarating performance played with great humour.

Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” (a national favourite) starred Oliver West (St Michael’s organist from 1974 to 2004) at the end of variation IV. I have to say that I couldn’t hear him at all and assumed it was because the organ is on its last legs and soon to be replaced. However, he assured me that this was the best possible news for him because it meant that he had not come in at the wrong place!

The concert finished with an animated performance of Walton’s “Crown Imperial” last heard at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

What a truly magnificent evening we all had and we went home feeling immensely proud to be British!

Phoebe Woollam

 The next concert is on Sunday 15th July 2012at 3.30 pm in the Chiswick Catholic Centre.

The pianist Christopher Duckett will play syncopated piano music of the 1920’s and 30’s .

May 29, 2012

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