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Review: Royal Northern Sinfonia play Beethoven's Eighth at Sage Gateshead

Alexandre Bloch led the North East orchestra and two brilliant soloists on a very merry dance in Hall One

Sage Gateshead

Our professional orchestra continued its teasingly unchronological journey through Beethoven’s nine symphonies (it began with six and ends on June 12 with three) with a sparkling performance of Symphony No. 8 in Hall One.

But not before other delights conjured from our tight little ‘band’ by French conductor Alexandre Bloch, a man in a black suit so shiny it, too, sparkled brightly.

Schubert’s Rossini-inspired Overture ‘in the Italian style’ - no pasta involved - was a light and effervescent starter.

Then came the ladies to perform Brahms’ innovative Concerto for Violin and Cello.

Marie-Elisabeth Hecker (cello) and Veronika Eberle (violin) have accrued mighty CVs and here they showed why.

This was a wonderful, inspiring performance of a stirring and timeless piece of work.

A cello can look an awkward instrument and looks are not always deceptive – my schoolboy tussles with the endpin came flooding back – but Miss Hecker was clearly at one with hers despite a disparity in ages (she is 28, it is 150).

The first note she struck went straight for the emotional jugular and the intensity didn’t let up, with the orchestra and the equally nimble violin twisting and dancing in mesmeric fashion.

This piece alone would have justified the ticket price... but more, of course, was to come.

Strauss’s Serenade for Winds saw a musical baker’s dozen return to the stage after the interval for a piece the composer wrote when he was 17. So much of classical music is a display of almost freakish precocity – performed on instruments old enough to remember.

Bloch and the musicians were well into their stride by now, generating the happy atmosphere for which the Sinfonia has become noted around the world.

Beethoven’s ‘Eighth’, I’ll confess, was one of those I couldn’t even pretend to hum – not like the ‘Fifth’ or the ‘Sixth’.

It’s a relatively short symphony but trademark Beethoven, full of stirring melodies and with a driving ‘engine’. The finale, with the man on the timpani earning his corn, galloped to a climax which brought gasps of appreciation from the row behind (I assume it was the music).

And as a bonus, for those who stayed, a Sinfonia quartet came back to perfom Beethoven’s Op. 133, Grosse Fuge that they play for fun in their spare time.


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