Sinfonia Tamesa

Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Symphony No.8 in G, Op.88

Irina Pakkanen (violin)

Sinfonia Tamesa
Jason Lai

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 27 October, 2007
Venue: St John's, Waterloo, London

Sinfonia Tamesa combines well-grounded expertise and enthusiasm. To bring the best out of these rather-more-than-amateurs yet not-quite professionals requires an astute and sympathetic conductor. Jason Lai provides a solid framework, to enable his not entirely accustomed orchestra to stay on course. Necessarily, interpretations tend to be middle of the road, with broader tempos than one might hear in larger concert halls. The musicians’ return gift is fresh, enthusiastic playing – an eager sound, always dedicated and never routine. They reveal – and sometimes rediscover – a work’s norm.

Sibelius’s Finlandia was expected as the first work – but this was neither played nor mentioned in the programme!

The concert started, then, with Beethoven’s sole Violin Concerto. Jason Lai had an individual slant on it. Many conductors open the towering first movement as if it were a symphony, grand and majestically lyrical. Lai opened in a most constrained, chamber-like fashion, a little thin, awaiting the violin’s first entry, warm but and quite intimate. Then – as the development got under way, not before – the orchestra weighed in with full-blooded sound. Thus, in 25 minutes or thereabouts, we moved from the refined classicism of a small orchestral sound to the full-blown colour of a larger, more Romantic counterpart.

Irina Pakkanen was an ideal, inspiring choice. Born in Muldova in 1981, she entered the Central Music School in Moscow in 1991, moving on to London’s Guildhall School where she now holds the Leverhulme Chamber Music Fellowship. She and her violin, “kindly loaned … by an anonymous donor”, are perfectly capable of making a big, broad sound – the gay, irresistible dance of the finale had incisive, extrovert energy, as did her rich recapitulation of the first movement’s themes. Add, though, more unusually, two bonuses from chamber-music making. She had an unusual rapport with the musicians – listening intimately and attentively to her partners in this giant enterprise … and, in the first movement, playing in gentle rapport with the horns. The second bonus was that she treated Beethoven’s extraordinarily tender music with solicitous and detailed care.

There was some special quality to Pakkanen’s performance. I wondered whether I could put it into words. Then, it came to me. In the deepest sense, she was ‘maternal’. With the intimacy of a chamber player, she looked after the sublime phrases with firm, loving, deeply feminine concern – caring for them, alive to their individuality, tucking them up safely and securely.

All this was rather unfair on Dvořák. A glowing performance of the greatest of violin concertos is a hard act to follow. The musical content of the Eighth Symphony, let it be said, is more straightforward than Beethoven’s. It has, in various forms, a Slavic drive – a sense of filling space with intense energy. The music is exacting; it requires commitment to its sound and precision in its phraseology.

Sinfonia Tamesa’s masterly attack during the awkward beginnings to the waltz-like scherzo and themes to be varied in the Allegro ma non troppo is a splendid case in point. Sinfonia Tamesa pulled out all the stops for the wild, driven coda. Earlier the musicians had clearly enjoyed the rich melodies of the first two movements, the greater opportunities afforded for the woodwinds and brass to sparkle and blazon. I became bucolically aware of the presence of sweet flutes, plaintive oboes, frog-throated bassoons, resplendent trumpets and a most authoritative drum. Overall, though – gloriously evident – was the collective enthusiasm of these highly talented players, youthful and bright.

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