Review: Orchestra’s slow burn turn into an inferno (York Guildhall Orchestra, Alessandro Taverna; York Barbican)

Good programming matters. It also sells seats. A much larger audience than usual was on hand to prove it on Saturday, when the Guildhall orchestra under Simon Wright sandwiched two works by Sibelius between Rossini’s overture to William Tell and Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto.





The orchestra was on fire from the start: a slow burn at first, in the sweetness of the cello quintet led by Sally Ladds, immediately followed by a blaze of trombones, as William Tell’s revolution crackled into life.The orchestra’s Sibelius odyssey has now reached Symphony No. 3 in C. The cellos – again, on top form – tellingly introduced the Russian-inspired opening, and the upper strings responded resolutely, with a glowing chorale bringing the movement to a dignified close. The woodwing choir showed its true colours in the atmospheric Andante, and the steady accumulation of tension made the closing scherzo exceptionally invigorating.

Sibelius’s Karelia Suite was the only disappointment of the evening, partly because of uneven voicing in woodwinds and horns, but in any case its potential serenity was spoilt by a spate of unmuffled coughs. Some order was restored by the rhythmically crisp final march.

Alessandro Taverna was the sensitive pianist in the Beethoven. His avoidance of bravura for its own sake was intoxicating. Even at speed, notably in the last movement, his phrasing was delicately nuanced, even intimate. His rubato-laden slow movement had kept the orchestra guessing, but revealed Beethoven’s gentler side. His sensual account of Debussy’s Clair de Lune, as encore, was bewitching.

Martin Dreyer (The Press, York)