Weiss with composer Chloe Sinclair. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / Canberra Sinfonia, conducted by Leonard Weiss. At Wesley Music Centre, Saturday, March 13. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD.

AFTER a year of, at best, sporadic live performances, there have been at least seven concerts in Canberra this week.

Amongst them is the first re-appearance of the Canberra Sinfonia with a world premiere by a local composer and a rare performance of Aaron’s Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” in its original form.

For this concert the ensemble was 13 players, comprising four violins, two violas, two cellos, bass and piano, with flute, clarinet and bassoon along with conductor Leonard Weiss. This was the group of musicians Copland originally scored the music for and heard less often than the shorter version for a full symphony orchestra.

The Canberra Sinfonia commissioned Chloe Sinclair to write “Rainfall of Diamonds” to launch its 2021 season.

Strings in Canberra Sinfonia. Photo: Peter Hislop

This a pretty and attractive piece of music, around 8-10 minutes long, with no hint of dissonance or any attempt to shock the audience. There are some very attractive moments, with one section in the middle of the work where a theme is stated by the violas, before being picked up by the violins and then the cellos. A compositional name to look for in the future.

Even though it is almost 80 years old “Appalachian Spring” sounds more “modern” than “Rainfall of Diamonds”. It is sometimes a very angular work with the use of fragments of folk-dance tunes and the melody line jumping between the wind instruments and short bursts from the piano. This is contrasted with the recurring variations of the Shaker hymn, ”Simple Gifts”.

Conductor Leonard Weiss. Photo: Peter Hislop

The Canberra Sinfonia  describes itself as semi-professional with a core of young professional musicians – Leonard Weiss, Helena Popovic and Alison Mountain – augmented by other young musicians as required.

This does put a greater expectation on their performances than there would be for a purely non-professional group and it can be hard for a reviewer to find that balance. They are certainly challenging themselves with works such as the Copland with its shifting rhythms and tricky timing. At the same time, the sound is not quite balanced and the performance is not quite tight enough.

Against that, this is a group of enthusiastic young musicians who are commissioning new work from young composers and pushing themselves with established repertoire, which can only be applauded and encouraged.

I look forward to their next concert.

 

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