Saturday 17 March 2018

Music review: City of London Sinfonia at NCH, Dublin

Michael Collins
Michael Collins

Pat O'Kelly

The welcome return of the City of London Sinfonia comes under the guiding hand of esteemed clarinettist Michael Collins.

He is also the soloist in both Mozart's Concerto and a recent Sinfonia commission from young Welsh composer Gwilym Simcock, 'On a Piece of Tapestry'. It begins languidly with the clarinet's lyrical flow, beautifully expressed by Collins. The string accompaniment becomes moderately impassioned as Simcock's solo writing becomes more invigorated.

The rarefied atmosphere of the opening returns before further agitated exchanges emerge between soloist and orchestra. Even so, the mellifluous rhapsodic quality of the work is maintained with Collins and his Sinfonia strings the committed advocates of music that seems to speak from the heart.

Collins gives a short introduction to the design of the reconstructed basset clarinet he plays in Mozart's Concerto. The composer's fascination with the instrument, still quite new in 1791, culminated with the masterpiece he completed just prior his death.

Collins must have played this Concerto umpteen times, yet his interpretation retains its inherent spirit of spontaneity. The work's refinement is reflected in Collins' flawless performance.

Mozart's slow movement has the seamless cantabile of some tragic operatic aria where Collins elicits autumnal hues from the basset's sepulchral depths while the gossamer threads of his pianissimi have magical delicacy.

The Finale finds Mozart in giddy mood and Collins conveys its joie de vivre with subtle virtuosity while showing the extent of the basset clarinet's capabilities.

The second half of this enthralling evening is devoted to Beethoven's 'Pastoral' Symphony. Without sounding any way rough, there is a rustic air about the opening movement as Collins ensures Beethoven's dynamic markings yield the intended elements of contrast.

The nicely paced 'Scene at the brook' gives the impression of some convivial al fresco gathering, while those 'country dances' of the central movement are rightly none too elegant.

Collins makes great play of the rumbling timpani and lower strings in the 'Thunderstorm' before the becalmed Finale brings refreshing contentment.

Mozart's 'Die Zauberflöte' Overture provides the opening gambit. Calculatedly slow to begin, effervescent strings, flowing woodwind and incisive brass are soon the auguries of dramatic promise.

Irish Independent

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