The South Bank Symphony has re-branded itself as Sinfonia Tamesa and appointed Jason Lai as musical director to succeed Thomas Blunt. A new season, and a new era, opened with this concert in the pleasant surroundings of St Johns (just near IMAX and Waterloo station) and suggested that Jason Lai and Sinfonia Tamesa (a lively, non-professional orchestra) are going to achieve some fine things together. (I never heard this orchestra with Thomas Blunt.)
Making allowances for some raggedness, tuning vagaries, and the occasional blooper, all the music was played with commitment and spirit. Beethovens overture for Heinrich von Collins was given with dramatic urgency and with expressive corners neatly turned; the coda had a palpable sense of bleached finality.
The orchestral introduction to Brahmss Violin Concerto promised much. Anna-Liisa Bezrodny (born in Moscow in 1981) currently studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and won this years Gold Medal. Hers was a traditional account of this well-trodden music. The occasional tonal roughness and intonation-lapse aside, Bezrodny gave an unaffected and confident account and concluded with a finale that was steady in tempo and agreeably frolicsome. The central Adagio initially flowed, led by an expressive oboe solo from Tim Oldershaw, but when Bezrodny entered the tempo dipped; she is a big-hearted player.
The novelty of the performance was the first-movement cadenza, an unfamiliar one, and unlisted in the programme. I asked the soloist for more information. The author proves to be Abram Yampolsky (1890-1950), a Russian violinist closely associated with the Moscow Conservatory and numbering Leonid Kogan among his pupils. Yampolskys cadenza, beginning and ending like the standard one by Joachim, is an extensive creation that goes off at fascinating tangents and it was good to have an opportunity to hear it, and brought off so well.
Dvořáks New World Symphony didnt suffer from the contempt of over-familiarity. Jason Lai kept the music on the move without glossing over the trepidation that lurks beneath the surface of the slow introduction (the homesick composer arriving in New York, and all that) and the exposition (repeated) had undoubted liveliness as well as an integrated approach through its sections. In the second movement Largo, the cor anglais-player, Eamonn ODwyer, suggested he would have liked a little more time to shape one of the most famous of melodies. (The tuba-player slipped away after this movement, his 14 notes dispensed with!) Jason Lai then further challenged his musicians with a very fast tempo for the scherzo (while bringing out a clarinet counterpoint that normally goes for nothing), the orchestra responding gamely, but later passages could have relaxed more. The finale was very successful and wrapped the symphony up with trenchant conviction.
Hopefully Jason Lai, a versatile and regarded conductor, will have the time to develop Sinfonia Tamesa further; meanwhile their next concert together is keenly anticipated.