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Review: Simply Sinfonia Adagio for Strings, Sage Gateshead

Royal Northern Sinfonia musicians do justice to the contrasting works of two famous American composers

Sage Gateshead
Sage Gateshead

Fans of American composers Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland must be in clover, with their music featuring in two concerts here within five days.

This time it was the turn of Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings and Copland’s less well-known Clarinet Concerto, together with two works by Mozart to complete a fine evening’s entertainment.

Billed as a Simply Sinfonia performance, this brought a more compact orchestra, with co-leader and violinist Kyra Humphreys directing from the chair.

Barber’s signature work was written for a string quartet but he subsequently produced versions for string orchestra and choir.

Since its use at President Roosevelt’s funeral in 1945, its slow, haunting beauty has featured at many solemn occasions, most recently in Trafalgar Square following the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices.

The power and sensation of hearing it played live always far exceeds any recording and Sage’s orchestra gave an impeccable performance in Hall One’s wonderful acoustic.

Copland wrote his Clarinet Concerto in the late 1940s on a commission from the King of Swing, Benny Goodman.

Timothy Orpen, the orchestra’s principal clarinet, was the soloist and played with vigour and obvious enjoyment, moving with ease from the slow and reflective first movement to the boisterous second with its fast, jazzy pace.

Mozart’s 4th Violin Concerto and 29th Symphony were both written when he was still a teenager, although the fluid style and use of orchestral resources show his precocious mastery.

Both were tuneful and easy on the ear, with Kyra Humphreys standing as principal player in the violin work and stepping effortlessly through the virtuoso parts.

The accents within the four movements of the symphony moved cleverly between the instruments, but this was classic Mozart played with characteristic confidence and passion, and providing another fine opportunity to hear the horn playing of Peter Francomb and Christopher Griffiths.

Rob Barnes


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