City Side Sinfonia

Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.83
Gareth Peredur Churchill
Keeper’s Pond [world premiere]
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36

Anthony Hewitt (piano)

City Side Sinfonia
Steven Joyce

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 15 September, 2009
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Such is the myriad diversity of classical music concerts on any particular evening in London, as we enter the main concert-giving season, there are times one wishes one had the ability to be in two (occasionally more) places at once. Thus it was here, when, having left after the first half of a piano recital on the South Bank and proceeding hot-foot (actually, fast taxi) to St John’s, I was able (only) to catch the second half of the City Side Sinfonia’s programme, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the founding of this orchestra by conductor Steven Joyce. It meant missing the Brahms Concerto, an omission made more regrettable owing to a comment by a friend that I had missed a fine performance indeed. My friend has been going to concerts of all kinds regularly for over thirty years, so his praise of Anthony Hewitt’s and the orchestra’s playing – especially in the second and third movements (the latter with the added attraction of Thomas Carroll in the cello solos) – made my anticipation of the second half the keener.

I was not disappointed, except in one regard. This was that, although the concert marked the tenth anniversary of the orchestra, too few programmes had been printed, so I, together with many people – including my friend, who had been there from the start – had to go without. Not that the occasion was by any means sold out – far from it, although it was an eminently respectable turn-out – but as a result I had no information about the first work in the second half.

The absence of a programme was not in itself a bad thing, for the situation reminded of those BBC Radio 3 broadcasts, “The Innocent Ear”, in which the title and composer of the work were revealed only after the performance; so, concentrating perforce on the task in hand, I can report that I should like to hear this new piece again. It is not long – about 7-8 minutes – and proved exceptionally well-written, being essentially a study in moderate motion, and containing an admirable control of dynamic growth over a relatively long period. If the actual invention was not particularly striking or individual, the result betokened a genuine composer of talent.

The performance appeared excellent, a comment that could certainly be applied to the well-known strains of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. Steven Joyce produced a reading in the first movement of no little stature; his technique was remarkably effective, without in the least appearing to be unwarrantedly overbearing. That first movement is in many ways the most difficult, structurally, to bring off satisfactorily, but in this instance it was both coherent and expressive, with the capacity to unleash power when properly called upon. The second and third movements were comparatively less successful for different reasons – the second’s basic tempo was a shade fast after the eventful first movement, and a dropped stitch in the scherzo was rescued in the nick of time. The finale was really excellent; it was rare to hear this familiar masterpiece played with such self-evident commitment and sense of discovery.

This was an important concert for conductor and orchestra (made up of gifted young professionals). Steven Joyce is a conductor of notable merit, and one hopes that he will be given a chance to prove his worth with more established orchestras.

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