Season 2003/04
Spalding,Lincolnshire, England

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Maggini Quartet
William Berger
Ian Lake

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featuring FIONA CROSS


Programme Notes

Introduction and Allegro for Strings Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)
Adagio for Strings, op.11 Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Serenade for Strings in E major, op.22 Anton Dvorak (1841-1904)

Press Review  

English Sinfonia

English Sinfonia has been performing in the eastern counties of England since 1961. A professional chamber orchestra initially based in Nottingham, the orchestra's administrative centre moved south in 1984 when Sir Charles Groves took over as Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser. In 1997, following an invitation from the Mayor and Councillors, English Sinfonia became the resident orchestra of Stevenage, where it regularly plays to full houses at the Gordon Craig Theatre.
From this central Hertfordshire base, English Sinfonia's concert-giving extends into Cambridgeshire, Essex, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, plus regular concert series in Mansfield, Welling-borough and Rickmansworth and the occasional foray further afield. The orchestra has a policy of championing English music, commissioning at least one new work each year from an English composer, and is proud of its twenty-year collaboration with David Bedford, currently the orchestra's Composer in Association. Whilst some concerts remain formal occasions, English Sinfonia likes, where possible, to bridge the gap between platform and auditorium: players mingle with the audience during concert intervals, and printed programme notes are supplemented by spoken introductions from conductors and soloists.
Education and community work is also central to the orchestra's philosophy, supported by the belief that music should be available to all, and not restricted only to those who patronise our concert halls. Concert promoters are encouraged to consider education or outreach projects, using smaller ensembles drawn from the orchestra membership to complement concerts given by the full orchestra, and English Sinfonia is privileged to have been associated for several years with the South Cambridgeshire 'Sounds of Summer' series which reaches out to all areas of the local community.
With several highly acclaimed recordings already to its credit, English Sinfonia's most recent disc of the music of Dohnanyi (ASV DCA 1107), featuring the orchestra's Leader Janice Graham (violin), Lucy Wakeford (harp) and senior guest conductor John Farrer, has once again received glowing reviews. Future plans for the concert hall include a major new collaboration with the dynamic, multi-ethnic ensemble, ShivaNova, and the world premiere of the Gemini Concerto written for twin duo pianists Claire and Antoinette Cann by Timothy Blinko.
English Sinfonia's Principal Conductor is the celebrated Nicolae Moldoveanu; its President is pianist John Lill.

Fiona Cross

Fiona Cross is one of the leading clarinettists of her generation, widely acclaimed for the "charismatic musicianship" first noted by The Guardian. She performs regularly on the concert platform, playing a wide-ranging repertoire, both classical and modern, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. She has recently been appointed principal clarinet to the English Sinfonia. Fiona is also enthusiastic about contemporary music and has commissioned works for clarinet and piano by such composers as Diana Burrell, Gary Carpenter and Adrian Williams. 
Fiona's love of chamber music has led to concerts with several leading ensembles, including the Alberini, Sorrel and Vanbrugh quartets. She is a member of the Kegelstatt Trio, the Goldberg Ensemble, Configure 8 and the New Music Players. Music clubs and festivals play an important part in Fiona's yearly commitments, including Huddersfield, Harrogate, Malvern and Presteigne as well as regular appearances in London at the Wigmore Hall and the South Bank.
Fiona has recorded a CD of contemporary clarinet music as well as a recording of the Simpson Clarinet Quintet with the Vanbrugh Quartet for Hyperion.



Introduction and Allegro for Strings - Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Elgar composed and arranged a number of works for string orchestra including the much-loved Serenade for Strings of 1892 (composed shortly after he married one of his piano pupils, Caroline Roberts,) and the later Introduction and Allegro of 1905. The Serenade was the first of his works to be published, but he became a household name only following the publication and performance of his famous Enigma Variations in 1899.

The beautiful Introduction and Allegro was to become significantly influential on other composers, inspiring further important works for strings by composers such as Vaughan Williams and Michael Tippett (who produced a masterpiece of his own with his Concerto for Double String Orchestra).

The source-medium that inspired Elgar's work was the baroque concerto grosso, a popular form of composition of the late seventeenth century, in which a small group of soloists (known as the concertino) emerges from the orchestral ranks (the ripieno) and alternately blends and contrasts with the larger group. In this piece, Elgar employ's a string quartet as the solo ensemble, and together with the orchestra; they weave and develop the thematic material (sometimes thought to be based on a Welsh folk tune) in a manner that is unique in music but entirely satisfying.

Although Elgar lived in London during much of his early life, he was born in a rural village outside Worcester, and this music, as in so many of his compositions, draws inspiration from the atmosphere of the Malvern Hills and the countryside that he loved so much.

To the listener, the Introduction and Allegro runs without a significant break, the whole score being constantly marked with changes of tempo and expression. The Introduction presents us with some grand and richly scored themes which (perhaps due to the feel of opening key of G minor) contain just a hint of resignation. Eventually, an energetic semiquaver passage for all players takes us powerfully to conclusion of this half of the work.

The Allegro is based on a fugue-figure introduced on the 2nd violins of the orchestra and quickly taken up by all parts - including, eventually, the solo quartet. An enormous emotional pull eventually occurs as the main themes from the introduction are beautifully and dramatically recapped in the final pages. Elgar ends the piece with a glorious flourish and a final joyous chord of G major.

This is English music by a great Edwardian romantic on his very best form.

Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra - Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)

Allegro vigoroso
Adagio ma senza rigore
Rondo; Allegro giocoso

While generations of clarinet students have struggled with, and been thrilled by, the intricacies of Finzi's masterpiece miniatures - the Five Bagatelles for clarinet and piano of 1943, the Clarinet Concerto was given its first performance on 9th September 1949 at the Three Choirs Festival at Hereford. The clarinettist was the renowned Frederick Thurston, and the orchestra was the London Symphony conducted by the composer.

In common with a number of English composers of his generation, Gerald Finzi's music has, until recently, been far too neglected. Having been born in London, he moved, in his twenties, to the West Country - drawn perhaps to the countryside that inspired Elgar and Vaughan Williams. He settled in Gloucestershire, and at this time composed mainly songs. He became well acquainted with the composer, Herbert Howells, and in 1925 he moved back to London where he was able to receive more formal training in composition. In London he was able to meet and became befriended by prominent musicians including Howard Ferguson, Gustav Holst and Vaughan Williams who conducted some of his later orchestral works.

Finzi was not a prolific composer. His music is tonal and attractive, and being firmly based in the 'English tradition', is sometimes described as 'pastoral'. But nothing must disguise his uniquely distinctive voice - a fine example of which can be heard in this Concerto for clarinet. Each of the three movements has its own characteristic utterance.
The first is a beautifully crafted movement in an English rhapsodic style. The second is a slow lyrical movement opening with muted strings which anticipates the clarinet's entry and affords the soloist every opportunity to display all his expressive power and tonal control. The final movement is a dance-style movement in 'Rondo' form - full of wit and energy.

Though the 'pastoral' mood is never far away, the Concerto ends with an exciting flourish of clarinet semiquavers reaching to the highest 'A', and concludes triumphantly on a high trill.


Adagio for Strings, op.11 - Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Samuel Barber was one of the first students to enrol at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. This was on the 1st October 1924. He remained at the Institute for eight years during which time his reputation as a composer was becoming well established. He returned to the Institute in 1939 to teach composition there.

At Curtis he met fellow student - Gian Carlo Menotti (the composer of the television opera 'Amahl and the Night Visitors'), and they remained constant companions throughout Barber's life.

Unfortunately, Barber's popular reputation has tended to rest largely on one published work - the Adagio for Strings of 1936. The music first appeared as the slow movement of a string quartet that Barber composed earlier that year for a European concert tour by the Curtis Quartet. He arranged it for string orchestra, and two years afterwards it was conducted by Arturo Toscanini with his newly founded NBC Symphony Orchestra to massive popular acclaim.

Although apparently built upon a simple sequence of repeated note patterns, the Adagio undoubtedly remains a miniature masterpiece. It has been said that the composer acquired inspiration for this music from a literary or poetic source, charting the course of a river as it flows from a gentle spring and becoming a mighty torrent. However we may choose to interpret this music for ourselves, we cannot but be amazed by both its simplicity and its staggering emotional impact.

If you enjoy this piece, I heartily recommend that you seek out other pieces by Samuel Barber - many of which are now fortunately becoming better known. For example, the Violin Concerto, first performed in 1941, has an unusual but beautifully lyrical first movement. With his disciplined use of traditional forms, Barber is often considered a classicist in style and a romantic by temperament. It is therefore interesting to hear, in a movement of his Piano Sonata of 1949, the only example in Barber's music of 12-note serial technique.

Those preferring more accessible music, and on larger scale, may enjoy the First Symphony composed in Rome in 1936, or the more recent Prokofiev-sounding Piano Concerto which won Barber the Pulitzer Prize in 1962.

For many of us, Samuel Barber's lesser-known compositions remain a source of musical enjoyment still to be explored - whether on disc or in the concert hall. But the discovery is worth it. Delights abound!

Serenade for Strings in E major, op.22 - Anton Dvorak (1841-1904)

Tempo di Valse
Scherzo: Vivace
Finale: Allegro vivace - Moderato - Presto

Both Dvorak and Elgar were players of the violin, and it is therefore interesting to see how, in this programme, their two works for string ensemble both display an expert understanding of string writing, both pieces being landmarks in each man's maturity as a composer.

Dvorak wrote his five-movement Serenade in 1875 - a very happy period in his life. It is one of the composer's sunniest works - perhaps reflecting the joy in his recent marriage to his beloved Anna (to whom he gave the piece as a wedding gift). But it may also reflect his growing acceptance within the musical world. For example, Brahms had just recommended him for a grant awarded by the government for artistic work.

The beautiful writing for all the instruments and abundance of melodies in each movement makes this one of the finest and best-loved works for string orchestra to this day.

Anton Dvorak grew up in a typically Bohemian village some fifteen miles north of Prague. Many of the family on his father's side were proficient amateur performers, and he grew up steeped in the song and dance tunes of Bohemian folk music.

From the very beginning, folk influence is evident in the Serenade. The first movement sets the scene with gentle melodies characteristic Slav wistfulness. The second movement is a lilting waltz, while the third is busy Scherzo - full of tight semi-quaver rhythms and with a beautiful contrasting central lyrical section. The slow fourth movement is warm and nostalgic in character; and the Finale (back in the sunny opening key of G major) is an exciting movement in fast, lively dance character.

In the quiet Moderato section, just before the end, note how Dvorak briefly, but clearly, recaps the lovely theme from the opening bars of the Serenade. This minute or so of tranquil flashback comes just before the final Presto flourish! What a beautiful moment at the end of a delightful and unforgettable work!

© Articles and programme notes by Peter Case for South Holland Concerts


Press Review - Spalding Guardian 8 October 2003

Fine performance richly applauded


South Holland Concerts has celebrated its 20th anniver­sary season in style with the fine string section of English Sinfonia providing an excel­lent and varied programme.
Elgar's pieces for string orchestra contain some of his greatest music and certainly the Introduction and Allegro, included in this delightful pro­gramme, embody quintessen­tial Elgar.
The nostalgia and inner tragedy of this work was brought out superbly and the solo quartet provided virtu­osk contributions to this efferves­cent opening. '.
Fiona Cross (clarinet) revelled in the brilliant writing of the Finzi Clarinet Concerto providing poetic vision and insight that is not often revealed but was intensely moving.
The strings, under Philip Ellis, had precision and polish thus com­plementing a superb performance.
Opening the second part of the concert, Barber's celebrated Adagio For Strings, which originally was part of the quartet Opus 11 but now stands alone as a very moving mas­terpiece, was played with tender­ness and poetic feeling.
The work's lyrical tenderness and subtleties of phrasing caught the innermost emotions of every audi­ence member.
In closing the concert with Dvorak's melodic and vivacious Serenade For Strings, the orchestra demonstrated its technical and musical accomplishment.
The rich yet transparent textures of the music, the light and shade, the crispness and clarity of texture gave a sharpness of focus that is often missing in larger orchestras.
But the extrovert joy of the play­ing gave a large audience the climax to a wonderful' evening of music making - the warmth and length of their applause confirmed their appreciation and enjoyment.