Review: MCCS Southbank Sinfonia

Category: Music, General

Sunday night saw the Marlborough College Concert Series welcome to the chapel our professional orchestra in partnership, the Southbank Sinfonia, to perform a stunning selection of repertoire which sought to redefine the way one thinks about chamber music.

The first half, Grieg’s String Quartet was a revelation. One expects with Grieg to hear traditional Scandi-noir, thick woollen jumpers, hygge, and trolls. The audience were instead met with an astonishingly modern sonority presented with remarkable power by the small group of musicians. It is a difficult piece indeed – its publication was originally delayed as C. F. Peters deemed it too hard to be played by a normal string quartet and insisted on adding a piano part. Grieg simply found another publisher. The demands were obvious, but served to ramp up the intensity with the tiny ensemble filling the cavernous acoustic.

After the interval, the main event: an arrangement of Mahler’s Symphony no.1 for chamber orchestra by Iain Farrington. Mahler is renowned for the sheer sense of scale in his symphonies: metaphysically as well as logistically. He wrote for enormous forces (his Symphony no.8 is nicknamed the “Symphony of a Thousand”) and aspired to produce weltanschauungsmusik: music which reflects the whole universe.

What an immense challenge, then, for the orchestra. The orchestration was remarkably nifty: with a horn, a bassoon, and clarinet combining and blending to produce the horn calls so evocative of the romantic idiom, and some fearless onstage-offstage trumpet playing. It was a masterclass in instrumental efficiency, with a full range of colours drawn from so few players.

The symphony, nicknamed the Titan, is expansive, dramatic, and heart-rending, and the Southbank Sinfonia more than did it justice. An absolute treat.

James Bartlett
Graduate Music Assistant
Trainee Teacher

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