Sydenham International Music Festival – Final Concert

Der Freischütz – Overture
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466
Thomas Hyde
Sinfonia miniscula
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67

Lara Melda (piano)

St Bartholomew Festival OrchestraRobert Trory

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 26 June, 2011
Venue: St Bartholomew's Church, Sydenham, London SE26

The remarkably dynamic Sydenham International Music Festival for 2011 ended with an orchestral programme which on the face of it was largely made up of ‘old favourites’, such as might draw a full audience, and it was certainly the case that tickets for this programme (and for almost every other concert in this month-long Festival, now established over ten years, held within striking distance of the old Crystal Palace) were long completely sold out. But it was not merely the attraction of familiar music that drew the crowds to this part of South London (which has remained musically rich for well over 150 years, having seen the world premiere, no less, of Schubert’s Second Symphony, alongside visits from Liszt, Dvořák and Bruckner); the quality of this orchestra – drawn exclusively from players in the top London orchestras, who might usually be taking Sunday nights off – is well-known, and to have secured Lara Melda – the 17-year-old pianist who won last year’s BBC Young Musician of the Year – was another coup. In addition, we had a work by a local composer, Thomas Hyde, as a further attraction.

Within a few bars of the opening of the Overture to Weber’s Der Freischütz it was clear that we were in for an evening of excellent music-making: here was orchestral playing, and phrasing, of high quality, heard to its best in the most admirable acoustics of this mid-19th-century Anglican Church (of which Sir George Grove was a parishioner; Stanford also played the organ in this church – the present incumbent is an FRCO). Trory delivered a finely-shaped reading of this work, and partnered Lara Melda in K466 most admirably. She gave a quite exceptional account of the solo part – her phrasing was exemplary, the tone she produced from the piano was equally consistently fine – and although a slight hiatus in the finale occurred, she was not fazed at all by it, continuing thereafter to give a reading that was both moving and deeply satisfying on all fronts.

Thomas Hyde’s ‘miniscule’ symphony is an impressive miniature – its three movements lasting around 10 minutes in total – which deserves wide exposure: attractive, yet modern, it is a real symphony, in that the composer subtly inverts the first movement material in the finale, thus binding the piece together admirably; it should perhaps be renamed ‘Sinfonia Breve’, when it might gain wider circulation. Written in memory of local music entrepreneur Norman McCann, who died in 1999, this 12-year-old work came across as fresh as paint in this exemplary performance.

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony ended the formal part of the concert in tremendous fashion: no tricks or hammy gestures here from Robert Trory, who secured a really fine account from his distinguished orchestra, and ended the evening with a quite brilliant encore: the Overture to Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla, the musicians playing within an inch of their lives.

Next year’s Sydenham Festival has the world premiere of a Cello Concerto by one of the musicians in the orchestra – Philip Sawyers, whose Nimbus CD of three of his orchestral works, recorded in the United States, is worth the attention of anyone interested in intelligent new music, including the mayor of Lewisham, Sir Steve Bullock, who was present (as he always is), and whose Council has managed to find money in these trying financial times to help subvent this wholly worthwhile Festival.

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