City Side Sinfonia/Steven Joyce with Ilya Gringolts at Cadogan Hall

Darren Bloom
Emergence [first performance]
Violin Concerto, Op.36
Concerto for Orchestra

Ilya Gringolts (violin)

City Side Sinfonia
Steven Joyce
Darren Bloom [Emergence]

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 20 January, 2011
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

City Side Sinfonia was founded by Steven Joyce over a decade ago. It seems without a website, so I must speculate that it is a steeping-stone for postgraduate students into the professional arena. The first half of this concert relayed a high standard of playing and musicianship, which promised much for Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. Unfortunately the performance of it seemed under-rehearsed – there were numerous lapses of ensemble, individual errors, and questionable tuning of violas and lower strings; and also a rather cautious approach by the conductor to the outer movements, the opening one lethargic regarding tempos and mood-swings, and with a finale that hung fire in its opening if rallying for a vibrant coda. The three middle movements fared better, if not without tentative moments – the ‘Game of the Couples’ enjoyed deftness with the brass warmly intoning its mid-point chorale, the ‘Elegy’ was intense, and the jocularity of ‘Interrupted Intermezzo’ was well caught.

The first half of the concert demonstrated what these players can do. There being no printed programmes (seemingly because of a problem with the printer), there was little to know about Emergence, save its composer offered a few words before conducting it, the work not unrelated to the recent birth of a daughter. The work’s soundworld forms gradually and rises to dramatic dissonance, yet at five minutes and with an ending that leaves us in mid-air there is little time for Darren Bloom to establish much personality and direction. (Post-concert I understand that Emergence is a work-in-progress.)

Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto was the concert’s highlight. Quite a coup to have engaged Ilya Gringolts to play it (and very few top-drawer virtuosos do essay this ‘Cinderella’ work, although Hahn, Kovacic and Znaider are honourable exceptions). Gringolts played this knotty and angular piece from memory and with total musical conviction and assured technique, mastering the notes and making music with them. The relative lack of personnel in the strings of City Side Sinfonia (which compromised the Bartók) was ideal to reveal Schoenberg’s complex counterpoint. What emerged was a lucid and tightly organised account of invention that requires hard work from performers and listeners (stylistically the Violin Concerto remains in the backwash of Schoenberg’s great Variations for Orchestra, Opus 31). These musicians, as a collective, had the measure of all three movements, bringing out the emotions and conversations of the score and also its whimsies – a performance to savour for both its quality and its revelations

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