Before the concert began, Tasmin and Series Director Chris Symons gave a brief preconcert talk. Issued discussed included her recent Classical Brit Award, her championing of Delius, and the wider topic of bringing classical music to a wider and younger audience. Tasmin’s outgoing and effervescent personality helped make this an enjoyable and informative start to the evening.
The opening work was a Concerto grosso by Handel. These early concartos differ from the later ones in that it was not just a single soloist ‘accompanied’ by the orchestra but rather a small group of soloists (the concerti) and the remainder (the ripieno). The playing of this distinguished orchestra was stylish and spirited, and the six (quasi-dance) movements were generally short and approachable. It is no surprise to discover that Handel wrote these concerti grosso to act as ‘interval music’ to be played between the sections of his great oratorios.
Something entirely different followed, although again there was a similar subtle division of the orchestra into concerti and ripieno sections. Bartok’s ‘Divertimento for String Orchestra’ was written at the outbreak of the Second World War, just before he left Hungary for good and moved to the USA. The two outer movements abound with the folk melodies and rhythmic excitement which characterise so much of his writing, but it was the slow movement which left the audience in hushed thought. Its slow, dreamy ‘night music’ effect is quite remarkable, and the performance it received from the ECO was atmospheric in the extreme.
Following the interval came the highlight of the evening, Vivaldi’s magical ‘Four Seasons’ Concerto – or rather four mini-concertos roiled into one. Led by tasmin Little, the orchestra matched her every mood: the promise of spring and sunshine of summer were wonderfully contrasted with the rustic high jinks of Autumn and the icy bleakness of winter. All were perfectly portrayed: dynamics ranger from the scarcely audible whisperings to the bucolically loud, and every nuance of the drama was graphically realised. Noteworthy was the brittle iciness of winter as it tinkled from the harpsichord. Remarkable ensemble, style and colour completed the picture.
Audience applause rang out loud and long, as another memorable concert was added to the ever-lengthening series of ‘greats’ that this Series manages to create.