London Chamber Orchestra Concert – 19th February

Music for the Royal Fireworks
Sinfonietta [World premiere]
Prelude and Fugue, Op.29
Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 (Italian)

London Chamber Orchestra conducted by Christopher Warren-Green

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 19 February, 2002
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The days of lights and speakers now seem thankfully past for the London Chamber Orchestra, enabling the audience to focus on a concert of repertoire items and a new commission from James Francis Brown.

Now 32, Brown has a number of major chamber works – including a Viola Sonata and String Trio – to his credit, while the Barbican premiere last year of his Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra confirmed a thoughtful musical persona – less concerned with questions of zeitgeist than with communicating ideas of substance.

So it is with the Sinfonietta, commissioned through Faber’s Millennium Series at the suggestion of David Matthews. Brown has been careful to assemble the basic symphonic constituents with a view to their intimating but not confirming the ’classical’ format. The result is a 21-minute piece of subtle and affecting contrasts, evoking composers as diverse as Stravinsky, Nielsen and Lennox Berkeley, but with a formal ingenuity and thematic profile that are already personal.

The performance – coming after an account of the Royal Fireworks Music that contrived to be both brazen and lacklustre – was attentive and committed. The woodwind did justice to Brown’s limpid and characterful writing in the slow third section, and while a few more desks to each string section would have filled out the texture appropriately, the sensitivity with which Brown handles his forces was rarely in doubt.

After the interval, an intense if rather scrappy rendition of Britten’s virtuoso Prelude and Fugue, and an enjoyable ’Italian’ Symphony – at its best in the inner movements, notably an account of the ’Con moto moderato’ which mingled charm and fantasy to engaging effect.

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