Marian Poole, Piano Teacher and Music Critic.

Lara St John & Southern Sinfonia with Werner 8 May 2011

Unusual vitality and masculine approach from violin soloist Lara St John to an otherwise well seasoned the “Four Seasons” wowed a capacity crowd at the Southern Sinfonia Concert at King’s and Queen’s Performing Arts Centre this Sunday. St John’s exceptional attack, vivid dramatic interpretation and attention to the conversation with the Sinfonia’s string sections were awe-inspiring. However not all of St. Johns’ slides, lingering dissonances, or fractionally offbeat entries were achieved with similar grace. Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” is such a well-known work, there is, at least since Nigel Kennedy, almost an obligation on soloists to reinvent it. Dwelling on its modern almost aleatory sounds or taking particular passages at a ripping pace are now an expected part of its performance. The work achieves that fragile balance between the demands on virtuosic technique and dramatic musicality. It remains therefore an evergreen winner at the box office.

The performance of Pärt’s “Festiva Lente” opened too abruptly and never quite settled to its promised melancholic repose. Although, as the work grew the Sinfonia seemed to work together, its diaphanous layers sounded merely nervous and ultimately misunderstood. Mistakes in direction included not allowing the work to breath at its close, not allowing the audience the chance to dwell upon its sound world or even to be sure that it had finished, and finally, not allowing them the opportunity to acknowledge the Sinfonia’s first performance of this intricate and demanding work.

Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” was performed with great control and elegance. Under Werner Andreas Albert’s economic yet highly sensitive direction, all sections of the Sinfonia were sounding polished and professional. The Southern Sinfonia really does seem to raise its game with each performance and is to be commended for bending its audiences’ ears to musical languages from outside those of the Great Tradition. This was a thoroughly enjoyable concert.