An early taste of summer in Lavenham

Lavenham Sinfonia, Opening Summer Concert, Lavenham ChurchStarting Lavenham Sinfonia's Summer Season of concerts in early April may have been tempting fate a little.

Ivan Howlett

Lavenham Sinfonia, Opening Summer Concert, Lavenham Church

Starting Lavenham Sinfonia's Summer Season of concerts in early April may have been tempting fate a little. But the audience didn't deserve to make its way to Lavenham Church in the wintry cold.

There was a Bohemian flavour to the first half of the programme. Outside it may have felt like the Prague of Wensceslas, but inside it was the passionate nationalism of the 19th century and the exiled regret of the 20th.

The opener couldn't have been better - Vltvava - the best-known of Smetana's symphonic poems that make up Ma Vlast (My Country or Fatherland).

The 1870s, when the work was written, was a time when the Bohemian voice was endeavouring (in the end, unsuccessfully) to give itself a stronger voice in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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The Sinfonia, under resident conductor Frederick Marshall, captured the quintessential Bohemian spirit behind the flowing, surging principal melody and the themes that reflect aspects of the country's life and folklore. It's a gorgeous piece, and the Sinfonia followed it with 'From Bohemia's Woods and Fields, a lesser-known poem from Ma Vlast.

The Stoke-by-Nayland based violist Hayley Chisnall, provided a treat by performing the rarely performed Rhapsody Concerto for Viola and Orchestra by the twentieth century Czech composer, Bohuslav Martinu. There's a wistful nationalism and sense of longing in the work. Martinu had fled Europe when Czechoslovakia was under the heel of one dictator and wrote the work in 1952 when his country was subjugated to another. It's a lyrical, pensive piece with not only Czech but also French and American influences. Hayley Chisnall caught its plaintive mood with style.

The second half was devoted to Tchaikovsky's Suite No 3 in G. The final movement, Theme and Variations, was used in 1947 by the ballet choreographer, George Balanchine to create the ballet of the same name, which has passed in to the classic repertoire.

The 50-strong Lavenham Sinfonia gave an expressive performance of a work that holds many delights and surprises, not least the impish scherzo, the delicate allegro vivo in the tenth variation and the rousing final polonaise.

Ivan Howlett

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