REVIEW: Nordic Summer Nights, Royal Northern Sinfonia, St Michael's Church, Alnwick

The Royal Northern Sinfonia performing at St Michael's Church, Alnwick.
The Royal Northern Sinfonia performing at St Michael's Church, Alnwick.

After gorging ourselves on an unprecedented four-course feast of musical treats in Alnwick last week, the sumptuous banquet resumed yesterday (Friday, July 20).

We had been spoiled rotten with the Summer House Sounds concerts bringing everything from disco funk and rock 'n' roll ballads to ska and opera, not to mention a delicious slice of musical theatre, as CHIC, Tom Jones, Madness, Il Divo and Michael Ball came to town from Michael Ball.

Last night, it was time for dessert, with another diverse choice of sweet sounds on either side of Alnwick. In the Playhouse, there was CJ delivering his tribute to the king of pop, Michael Jackson, while at St Michael's Church, the flavour and mood were completely different.

The Royal Northern Sinfonia, which is based at the Sage Gateshead and is the UK's only full-time chamber orchestra, was back after a very successful pre-Christmas Baroque concert in December.

It was the start of the latest touring series, Nordic Summer Nights, with the full orchestra splitting into two to reach out to other parts of the region, serving up five different concerts. We were treated to the Sibelius 2 programme, while there was a simultaneous performance at Corbridge, presenting an alternative set.

The medieval architecture in the church was the perfect backdrop for classical tunes and the talented musicians took full advantage, with Tristan Gurney once again like a head chef leading his team to produce gastronomic delights. Tristan is a brilliant artist and performs with considerable panache, enthusiasm and no little skill - he makes the violin sing, as he proved on his last visit.

But the entire orchestra were accomplished, evoking emotions I never knew I had, particularly in the second half of the programme, which was devoted to the Finn, Jean Sibelius, and his Symphony No 2 in D ... but more of that later.

The programme began with another Sibelius piece, the haunting Andante Festivo, during which the drum rolls from David Merseguer Royo's timpani (or kettledrums) added a grand dimension to the evening.

Serenata In Vano by prominent Danish composer Carl Nielsen was next up, flicking between the fun and flighty, then the serious and soothing - a lovely work for a glorious combination of clarinet, bassoon, horn, cello and double bass.

Gurney again shone with a virtuoso performance in the next piece by Dane Johan Svendsen - the serene and intimate Romance.

And before the break, Nielsen's Little Suite for Strings, which was passionate and dreamy, with contrasting movements that were waltz-like and foot-tapping; delicate pizzicato style combining with crescendos of sound.

But the best was saved for last. The second half owed much to composer Iain Farrington's arrangement, reproducing the grand sound of a full orchestra on a smaller scale, much as he did for the Nutcracker Suite in December. It was genius and worked so well.

I am no expert in classical music and I was not familiar with Sibelius' Symphony No 2, but, quite frankly, it mattered not a jot - the orchestra managed to take us all on a journey of emotions that resulted in a standing ovation.

The symphony was written to celebrate Finnish nationalism and independence from Russian oppression, premiering in 1902. We were carried away on that same wave of pride through to a grandiose finale, in which the timpani really added depth to the other ingredients.

It was stirring stuff and a perfect recipe for another memorable evening in the company of the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

And with dates to come at Alnwick, Cullercoats, Hexham, Darlington, Rothbury, Carlisle, Sunderland, Corbridge, Ponteland and Ushaw, my advice would be to catch them where you can, you’ll not regret it.

The orchestra (take a bow!): First violin - Tristan Gurney, Iona Brown, Sarah Roberts. Second violin - Jenny Chang, Alanna Tonetti-Tieppo. Viola - Michael Gerrard, Tegwen Jones. Cello - Steffan Morris. James Craig. Double bass - Sian Hicks. Flute - Amy Yule. Oboe - Steven Hudson. Clarinet - Tom Verity. Bassoon - Stephen Reay. Horn - Jonathan Quaintrell-Evans. Trumpet - Richard Martin. Trombone - Nigel Cox. Timpani - David Merseguer Royo.

The same programme was performed at Cullercoats tonight (July 21) and is coming to All Saints Church, Rothbury, on Tuesday (July 24).

The company is back at St Michael’s Church, Alnwick, on Thursday (July 26) with the ScandiStrings programme: Bradley Creswick (director/violin) presents Grieg Holberg Suite; Hameenniemi Concerto for Violin and Strings; Rautavaara Pelimannit (‘The Fiddlers’); Sibelius Quartet in D minor Op.56 ‘Voces Intimae’ arr. String Orchestra.

They return on Friday, August 3, with Sibelius 5: Tristan Gurney directs Sibelius En Saga Septet; Grieg Two Elegiac Melodies; Larsson Trumpet Concertino; Sibelius arr. Farrington Symphony No.5.

For more details of where and when you can catch the tour and for ticket information, visit http://www.sagegateshead.com/event/nordic-summer-nights/