An ensemble of eight cellos alone might seem a limiting combination, but as the personable young conductor Richard Laing pointed out during Saturday’s concert, the instrument can in fact span the entire range of the human voice, from basso profundo to coloratura soprano.
And these cellists of the Midland Sinfonia (plus guest-leader Eduardo Vassallo, playing away from his principal’s desk at the CBSO) were joined by a real soprano, April Fredrick, her tones beautifully placed, in the quintessential piece for this combination, the famous Bachianas Brasileiras no.5 by Villa-Lobos.
We had begun with an unconvincing arrangement of the well-loved Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, lacklustre and poorly tuned. And there are so many versions of Rachmaninov’s maudlin Vocalise that this one just came and went.
But then we had a real and genuine bonus in an astonishing arrangement of the slow movement from Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Vassallo delivering a solo of warmth and dignity, his colleagues inspired by their great exemplar to cushion an accompaniment of such attentiveness under Laing’s expressive hands.
Finally Laing concluded the evening with a stimulating work by his father, Alan Laing. Of Music’s Wondrous Might for soprano and cellos has already achieved worldwide acclaim. It breathes the fin-de-siecle headiness of Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht, and has a sensitivity to word-setting of which Britten would have been proud. And Fredrick pitched us an enthralling performance.