It is very brave of the Central England Ensemble to highlight the 20th century, copious music of great variety of course, but not always as accessible as one would wish.
However, our imaginations were teased initially by Andrew Downes’ overture ‘In the Cotswolds’:
Gloucestershire lyricism, deliciously user-friendly. Sunny pastoral scenes, horn solos, then diminishing pianissimos disappearing to delightful oblivion: smiles all round.
Nine-year old Samuel Barber precociously decided that composing was for him. Twenty years later his violin concerto was born, a work with many interesting challenges and a bonus for everyone. Birmingham’s own Amy Littlewood was the talented young soloist this evening.
At times conductor Lee Armstrong could have reigned back his forces however as the overall resonant acoustic tended to swamp many solo strands from orchestra (lovely oboe for instance) and violinist.
Stylish solo writing was performed with sparkle and sensitive balance with quaint ‘Scotch Snaps’ coming through during various perky phrases: characterful and rhythmical. Then to the hair-raising ‘perpetuum mobile’ of the finale. Off like a rocket, with continuous triplets scorching from the soloist challenging the orchestra to keep on track. Brilliant playing and breathtaking for everyone.
Music from sweeping Russian steppes opened Kalinnikov’s Symphony No 1, but the orchestra took time to settle. Subtle contrasts would have added more colour to this full score. Untidy scrambling and imperfect intonation led to eventual lilting Russian dancing in movement three.
Various lovely solos throughout however. Final triangle trills turned red hot to white hot – worth the wait.