Mid Sussex Sinfonia in fine form - review

REVIEW BY Rebecca Dowden

Wednesday, 23rd October 2019, 10:05 am
Mid Sussex Sinfonia

Mid Sussex Sinfonia presented a programme of Nordic Legends for their autumn concert comprising of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No 1, Sibelius’ Finlandia and Symphony No 2 in D Major. This was the Saturday that Parliament met and didn’t get that meaningful vote three years on from the referendum. Sibelius wrote Finlandia in 1899 when Finland was trying to free itself from Russian control and to achieve independence. He finished the Symphony in 1902 as the struggle for independence continued. I expect the programmer was happier than some in Westminster.

The longer work formed the second half of the concert. It tackles a far more complex range of emotions and musical themes than Finlandia. The orchestra truly brought the representations of country life, landscape, oppression, patriotism and freedom to life. Here was an ensemble that was confident under the conductor, Ian MaCrae. He guided a cohesive and passionate performance which was enhanced by the rich acoustic of The King’s Centre in Burgess Hill. (I do think however some form of temporary lighting if at all possible would enhance the atmosphere.) The Allegretto began confidently and the balance within the orchestra was well managed. MaCrae had reminded the audience in his introduction that with Sibelius there is “no compromise to the art of orchestration” and he supported his players through their musical journey. If perhaps a little vulnerable at the beginning of the second movement the impressive full sound of the orchestra was soon unleashed and led to the Vivacissimo which displayed the depth of talent in the violins impressively led by Martin Palmer. The lower brass and double basses wonderfully underpinned the sweeping romantic theme which emerges and the rest of the orchestra responded confidently. The finale was well paced and achieved a simple grandeur.

Back to the first half. Hardly unsettled by a short delay to the start of the concert while the leader restrung his violin after a snapped E string minutes before, the Peer Gynt Suite began with commendable tone from the woodwind section in the piece’s familiar “Morning” melody. The strings impressed in the second movement and the connection between orchestra and conductor was evident in the subtlety and direction of phrasing. “Anitra’s Dance” was charming and MaCrae swept his players along for an invogorated “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.

Finlandia had a confident and resolute start. The orchestra quickly established a grandiose sound without pomposity. The dialogue within instrumental sections was animated and the melodic folk elements well conveyed. The french horns impressed and the scale of the piece was achieved in a truly collaborative performance.

The orchestra’s season continues at the Dolphin Centre, Haywards Heath on Sunday 10th November with their Remembrance Concert with Ardingly Choral Society and on Sunday 8th December for an exciting Howard Blake concert which includes a massed children’s choir from various local schools.

REVIEW BY Rebecca Dowden