From the first few notes of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture, it became apparent that we were in for an evening of meticulously crafted music making on Saturday night, the Brandenburg Sinfonia responding with immediacy and elegance to Jeremy Backhouse’s expert conducting. They were later joined by the star of the evening, the violinist Tasmin Little, in a scintillating performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. And what a delightful rendition it was! Little’s technique is extraordinary and ideally suited to the work, but it was the sparkling musical rapport between soloist, orchestra and conductor that shone out from the stage.
Hear My Prayer formed the first contribution to the evening of Guildford’s Vivace Chorus, here sounding dramatic and disciplined in the choral interjections of this famous anthem. The use of Mendelssohn’s own orchestration of the piece served to reinforce the power of the original work, although this occasionally threatened to drown out the treble soloist. This was not helped by G Live’s particularly dry and distant acoustic, which provides very little support for voices whilst boosting the middle register of the orchestra. Despite this, Thomas Delgado-Little gave a solid account of the piece, singing with exemplary intonation and tone, especially in the higher register of his voice.
After the interval, the maritime theme of the concert was resumed with two lesser-known works for chorus and orchestra by Stanford and Delius. It was really refreshing to hear these presented as well as they were here, but the risk was always that they would suffer in comparison with Mendelssohn at his very best. Delius’ Sea Drift is a setting of part of Walt Whitman’s effusive poem Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking, in which the narrator’s soul becomes entwined with those of a pair of sea birds. Delius’ harmonic language relies on a constantly shifting chromaticism, which, together with his avoidance of formal melodic elements, can leave the music sounding rather aimless. When the mood of the poem changed from ecstasy to despair, I for one was hard pressed to tell the difference. However, there were undoubtedly pleasures to be had in the performance, not least from the singing of the young Baritone, Henry Neill, whose consistent beauty of tone and clarity of diction more than made up for his curiously immobile posture as a singer.
We were back to more familiar territory for the finale of the concert in the shape of Stanford’s Songs from the Fleet, a collection of five songs, alternating faster, sea shanty-inspired music (some fine singing from the men of the chorus here) with some wonderfully atmospheric slow movements, the most beautiful of which was the serene evocation of a starlit sea that was presented in The Middle Watch.