2017 Autumn Concert Review

An Evening with a Tenor

On Saturday 11th November, I attended my first North Downs Sinfonia concert. A musician myself, I’d heard a little about the orchestra so I wanted to come and hear them for myself, and what a pleasure it was! A ‘hidden gem’ was what came to mind during the performance and I was very excited. In this little village hall, one you’d miss if you didn’t know it, was a group of the friendliest and most talented amateur musicians, who quite clearly loved what they were doing and gave a very successful performance from start to finish.

The evening began with a friendly welcome from the orchestra’s conductor, Francis Griffin. We were introduced to the evening’s soloist, Davide Sorrentino, who enticed us with his Italian, giving us a taste of the treats in store that evening. I quickly forgot the cold weather I had left outside, with the first of seven Italian operatic arias, the iconic La Donna E Mobile from Rigoletto by Verdi, doing a good job to convince me I was somewhere far more exotic! The orchestra got off to an optimistic start with the well-known opening theme being passed between the strings and wind. Davide joined them with the bright and rhythmic tenor melody, putting a smile on everyone’s faces. The music continued in this entertaining yet sumptuous style, ending with a powerful, sustained high C. If they weren’t already, the audience were certainly now all hooked on this tenor.

Next was Recondita Armonia from Tosca by Puccini. The cellos began, soon joined by the rest of the orchestra with the woodwind singing sweetly above. Davide joined them, giving us a romantic performance of another famous aria with his warm, tonal quality charming the audience once again. After this, we returned to Rigoletto, with Questa Quella.

Here, it was announced that Davide was taking a well-deserved rest. Continuing with the theme of opera, we were treated to Der Freischutz Overture, by Weber. It was with this that I felt the orchestra really shone. There was much to commend in their performance, including tight rhythmical passages, led fantastically by Francis, and beautiful solos from numerous players. A special mention must go to Sylvia Seaton, whose energy captivated me throughout the piece. Another mention goes to the horn section led by Paul Kajzar, whose solos were faultless throughout.

Davide then returned to the stage to perform another beautiful Italian aria; Una Furtiva Lagrima from L’Elisir d’amore by Donizetti. At the start of this piece, we were able to appreciate the rich, velvety tones of the bassoon, with a beautiful solo played by Janet Bruce. As this is a less well-known instrument of the woodwind family, it was nice that Francis took time to talk about this to the audience. Our soloist then selected a piece of his own choosing; Caruso by Lucio Dalla, and our conductor provided his own arrangement of the music for the orchestra. This was a highlight of the night, knowing the deep involvement of the soloist and conductor with the music.

To complete the first half of the concert was Torna a Surriento by Ernesto De Curtis, in which Davide gave another passionate and expert performance and finally Nessun Dorma by Puccini, which in my opinion “An Evening with a Tenor” could not have been complete without. A fantastic first half!

When the orchestra returned to the stage for the second half, we were treated to another skilled performance from the orchestra of Dvorak’s 7 th Symphony. I noticed many of the woodwind players had changed seats and it was enjoyable to hear some different players in this piece. Although perhaps quite a large work to take on for a small orchestra, this was executed well and they managed to produce a strong sound from beginning to end. The rolling cello theme got the piece off to a convincing start, soon interjected by the clarinet and French horn motifs. The strings, who demonstrated convincing playing with a sustained drive throughout, then led us onto a more dramatic subject, with the clarinets, oboes and flutes sitting perfectly on top. The movement develops into a bit of a battle between instruments, held together seemingly effortlessly on Saturday by Francis Griffin, building to a climax to finish. We again enjoyed the sound of the woodwind players at the start of the Adagio. The strings played the second theme and the horns shone with the third. The final two movements of this symphony are quicker and brought the evening to an exciting finale. Parts were sometimes a little untidy but the piece as a whole came together beautifully, under both the guidance of the conductor and strong playing of the leader.

Francis Griffin’s energy and dynamism brought this orchestra together to deliver an expert performance of some very challenging and interesting works. This programme was pitched perfectly for the audience, being both highly accessible and fantastically executed and led to rapturous applause at the end of both halves. I for one cannot wait to attend another performance to see what else the NDS has to offer.

Reviewer – Emily Hanley