Review: Travellers’ Tales (2010)

“Since its inauguration in November 1999, Ely Sinfonia has developed into a formidable presence in the musical world in Ely and a number of new faces in the orchestra for their concert in Ely Cathedral on Saturday added vibrancy and sparkle to this fine group of instrumentalists. In spite of competing with a number of high profile events in the area on Saturday night, the orchestra gave a splendid performance of Rossini’s Overture to ‘Italian Girl in Algiers’, ‘Harold in Italy’ by Berlioz and Gershwin’s ‘An American in Paris’.

Under the baton of Steve Bingham, the mischievous humour of Rossini was always present. With a strong sense of excitement and drive, the orchestra tantilised the listeners with tremendous variety of expression. Precise rhythms, joyful climaxes and virtuosic accuracy in the woodwind were the order of the day. This was an excellent choice for the opening of the concert – a choice that captured the attention of the audience immediately.

The underlying melancholy of Berlioz and the beauty of the viola, often overlooked within the bounds of the orchestra, were made apparent in ‘Harold in Italy’. The viola soloist,  Brenda Stewart, gave an excellent performance. In the first movement, ‘Harold aux Montagnes’, the instrumentalists highlighted the sonorous melodies, elongated climaxes and occasional demonhic flourishes so characteristic of Berlioz.  In the second movement, ‘Marche des pélerins chantant la prière du soir’, deep pizzicato, calm reflective contemplation and subtle hypnotic use of isolated discord charmed the listeners. The third movement, Sérénade d’un Montagnard des Abruzzez à sa maîtresse, indulged in a countryside feel as the performers reminded us of previous themes. The work ended with an intriguing fourth movement: ‘Orgie des Brigands’ which was introduced by the viola that was soon overwhelmed by an orgy of excited and chattering pleasure seekers. Steve’s superb conducting generated impressive precision in some quite demanding episodes in this movement.

However, the real highlight of the evening for me was Gershwin’s ‘American in Paris’. None of Gershwin’s rhythmic variation, colourful orchestration and exuberance was lost in the performance tonight.  We were swept from the busy excitement of the city, with its hectic traffic, and intermittent blaring horns to languid pensive moments of reflection. The easy swagger of the American revelling in the sights and sounds of this wonderful city was captured perfectly and not a moment was lost. Performers and audience were caught up in an unforgettable experience as they indulged in Gershwin’s unique jazzy style clothed in classical design. Steve Bingham and

Ely Sinfonia proved to be an exceptional force with this magnificent performance”

Dr Rosemary Westwell, Local Arts Critic