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Review: The Welsh Sinfonia - Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll @ RWCMD

Posted by Weeping Tudor from Cardiff - Published on 22/04/2013 at 12:05
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The Welsh Sinfonia - Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Thursday 18th April 2013

Wales has a vast and rich musical background. Orchestras and operas are in abundance. Yet for a long time, we haven’t been able to flaunt a well-regarded chamber orchestra. This is where the Welsh Sinfonia comes in. Over the past few years they have been building up a reputation that can only increase more so in time. Much support is needed for them and there is no shame in them requesting audiences to donate. I would if I could. Yet the double-sided talk of coin is haunting me as I type…

The first thing I would like to point out is the change of time for the concert. The RWCMD brochure indicated it was to start at the normal time of 7:30pm. As I arrived at the concert to collect the ticket, I was informed I had missed the start. The concert had been changed to 7pm without my knowing. I’ve been to so many performances that 99% do start at the standard time of 7:30. BBC NOW changed their concert times at the Hoddinott Hall from 7 to half past, since I made a suggestion to them as well. So I basically missed Intrada by the Welsh composer William Mathias.

I tried in vain to see if the piece was on YouTube, but to no avail. So I can’t really give a criticism of it then. What I can say is he is one of the big guns of Welsh music composers and apparently wrote for every type of composition, except for electronic music and large chamber orchestra. It’s a slim shot but I’ll do my best to try and hear this little five minute work if it’s done again.

As I settled into the auditorium of the Dora Stoutzker Hall (which is a beautiful new venue to hear live music), I pleased to know I did not miss Wagner on the programme. It was his Siegfried Idyll, his most popular orchestral score. With operas lasting four hours in length, this little gem is accessible, pleasant and refreshing. He would later incorporate the music into the opera of the same name Siegfried, the third part of his gargantuan Ring Cycle. He also named his son this (in fact come to think of it, all his children bore the names of characters in his operas) and the first performance was for his wife Cosmina on Christmas morning 1870 with a handful of musicians outside her bedroom door (it’s not known how many). She describes this in her diary:

‘‘As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller; no longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming, music was sounding, and such music! When it died away, Richard came into my room… and offered me the score.’’

Next was another flute concerto heard this season by Jacques Ibert. This is a delightful little number, which has as its soloist BBC Young Musician of the Year 2010, Emma Halnan. She made the flute look a breeze to play. Her youthful and delightsome presence made for a great concerto. With so many violin and piano concertos performed today, why can't we have more for the flute and other instruments?

As if this wasn’t enough, composer Roxanna Panufnik had composed a new work, with the world premier none other than here in Cardiff (always intriguing and exciting to have one here). Her Orchestrapædia is of a 21st Century enhancement of Benjamin Britten’s Young Persons Guide To The Orchestra. Like that work each instrument of the ensemble gets its moment to shine with solos and duos. Its base for the variations in the score is the Welsh folk song Dros Yr Afon (Over The River). The story in the newly written work is just basically the instruments come alive and cause mischief, fall in love and have a good time.

As we heard the music, it was accompanied by animation stills of each section of the music depicting the instruments in their weird anthropomorphic states. It was drawn by the composer’s brother, Jem. They had a nice sheen to them and could keep children entertained if they did move as actual animation. Nice idea and quite charming. The highlights of the music were the brief jazz section, a Mexican trumpet solo and an Irish Riverdance section, with the wind players clapping alone.

Lastly, the concert finished with Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. A short work to end the concert, after quite a marathon of music. As always with old Ludwig, his earthy and rampant tones are what make people still hear his music 200 years after it was first composed. Our conductor, Mark Eager seems so passionate about the Welsh Sinfonia. He loves to talk to the audience during the concerts to welcome us and introduce us the music.

Hears to more music making. Just keep the Dora as the usual venue, as well.

Rating: 7/10

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