For a part-time orchestra (many of its members have day jobs unconnected with music) the Sinfonia of Birmingham is actually rather good. Indeed, there were times on Sunday when trying to make distinctions between ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ became little more than an exercise in critical nitpicking.
The two main works were certainly well up to the mark. Michael Seal – who has grown from a safe pair of hands into a conductor with real insight and imagination – directed a terrific account of Nielsen’s First Symphony, underpinned by an energy that swept all before it.
But in no sense was it just a ‘play through.’ Despite the almost relentless sense of momentum (a valid interpretative approach, considering Nielsen’s quirky approach to progressive tonality, melodies that don’t linger, and movements that never return to their point of origin) this was an open-textured reading full of detail and tonal freshness.
As was Seal’s support for his CBSO colleague Zoë Beyers in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2. The Sinfonia strings did much to mirror Beyers’ beautifully enunciated opening melody (though they couldn’t quite match her vibrant warmth), and in the Andante, with its melodic strands so dreamily floated by the soloist, clarinets and principal flute provided impeccably sensitive counterpoints. Beyers also brought just the right touches of tongue-in-cheek nonchalance to the galumphing dance elements of the Finale, which had the effect of making her dazzling passage-work sound even more impressive.
There were few surprises in the rest of the programme. ‘The Swan of Tuonela’ had a well-nurtured airing with fine cor anglais and cello solos, while Stravinsky’s ‘Dumbarton Oaks’ Concerto was delivered with confidence and accuracy, although its articulation needed more of an edge.