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Review: Unfinished Business, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Sage Gateshead

The Royal Northern Sinfonia gave leader Bradley Creswick a platform to dazzle in a concert conducted by Richard Farnes

****
Violinist Bradley Creswick
Violinist Bradley Creswick

The concert’s title perhaps owed more to its two main personalities than to Schubert’s famous symphony which formed part of the evening’s programme.

Opera North’s celebrated music director, Richard Farnes, has appeared here more than a dozen times but always when conducting another orchestra. This was his first engagement with Royal Northern Sinfonia.

And it was two anniversaries in one for Bradley Creswick – 30 years since he was first appointed as the orchestra’s leader and 20 years since returning from London to take up the job for a second time.

Very much the public face of the Sinfonia, the irrepressible violinist used the concert to demonstrate the skills for which he is so well known.

Mozart’s brief but captivating Symphony 32 opened the programme, to be followed by Tchaikovsky’s notoriously testing Violin Concerto in D.

This fell prey to the critics in Vienna at its premiere in 1881, with one saying “the violin is no longer played… it is beaten black and blue”.

The word ‘virtuoso’ could have been invented for this work which offers plenty of opportunities for such skills.

It is full of huge contrasts – fast, then restrained, then rhythmical and lyrical – and Creswick showed himself master of them all in a memorable performance. All his orchestral colleagues shared their leader’s and the audience’s joy at the end.

Dvorak’s Romance in F minor for Violin and Orchestra introduced the second half. Orderly, pleasant and tuneful, but not without its mysterious moments, it was a perfect contrast to the Tchaikovsky and Creswick’s sensitive interpretation was perfect.

The climax was Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony No 8. It is two movements short of a full symphony (the composer put it to one side, having moved on to other things). It paved the way for the symphonic styles of the later 19th Century and it still shows the composer’s skill in marching to a different drum than his contemporary, Beethoven.

From its initial dark and ominous opening theme from the cellos and basses, it leads its audience through many colours to a tranquil conclusion.

This was a fine choice of music, showing off both soloist and orchestra to best effect.

If I haven’t mentioned the admirable Richard Farnes since the opening of this review, it’s only because I never noticed him throughout the entire concert. There is no higher praise I can give a conductor.

Rob Barnes

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