Sinfonia reviews

Wharfedale Observer & Ilkley Gazette March 2024

Geoffrey Mogridge reviews our performance of Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle, saying it was a "mesmerising performance, conducted with loving care by Antony Kraus."

Read the full reviews - Wharfedale Observer - Ilkley Gazette

Wharfedale Observer 29 March 2022

Last Saturday evening’s quite amazing Sinfonia of Leeds concert had that elusive fleeting quality of a live event that scales the Olympian heights. The Sinfonia’s performance of Act 1 of Wagner’s Die Walküre was all the more astounding since the eighty five orchestral musicians were not full time or freelance professionals. The Sinfonia of Leeds is a community orchestra. Its members play solely for their love of great music. 

From the stormy orchestral Prelude built on five double basses, to gleaming brass leitmotifs and rapturous lyrical passages played with sumptuous tone by the ten cellos: the sheen of virtuosity was breathtaking.

Mark Le Brocq as Siegmund and the great American bass James Creswell as Hunding, Sieglinde’s threatening husband, reprised their roles from Opera North’s 2016 Ring Cycle. Le Brocq has both the ringing heldentenor heft necessary for Siegmund’s Nothung! Nothung! as he pulls the sacred sword from the ash tree, and the lyrical quality for his beguiling Winterstürme (Winter storms have waned in the moon of May). The Sinfonia’s ravishing orchestral backdrop reproduced Wagner’s evocation of the sounds of nature in glorious technicolor.

Soprano Stephanie Corley’s radiant performance as Siegliende firmly establishes her Wagnerian credentials. Corley and Le Brocq are beautifully matched in their ecstatic outpouring of mutual love. Creswell’s incisive dark-hued bass wonderfully suffuses Hunding’s presence with menace. Anthony Kraus’s impeccable sense of pace and balance revealed every nuance of Wagner’s vast orchestral canvas in this resonant space.

Rossini’s William Tell Overture and guest leader Tom Greed’s interpretation of Dvorak’s serenely beautiful Romance for Violin and Orchestra produced the same level of virtuosity.

Clearly, an important musical occasion and one to be savoured for years to come.

Geoffrey Mogridge

Ilkley Gazette 7th July 2011

This marvellous orchestra came to Ilkley a year ago and gave a superb concert to an undeservedly small audience, and this year was no different.

Is it the tag 'amateur' that keeps people away from this semi-professional orchestra's visits to Ilkley? Certainly there was nothing amateurish about this event. The opening of Beethoven's Egmont Overture showed the orchestra's string section was in fine fettle, with depth and richness. The piece was played with all the energy it demands, the final 'symphony of victory' bringing the performance to a blazing conclusion. In total contrast came the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. The soloist was Sophie Rosa, ex-Chetham's and now studying at the Royal Northern College. But this was no student performance. Her assured platform manner and instrumental control were remarkable. From the opening, launched with such sweet tone and impeccable intonation, she engaged her audience.

The cadenza held no fears for her. The slow movement, played at a proper flowing tempo eschewed sentimentality.

The quicksilver finale was dazzling and the orchestra's woodwind section rose to the many challenges that the composer's scoring presents. Those who were there were fortunate, surely one day able to boast: "I heard Sophie Rosa play when she was still only a student." After the interval, conductor Dougie Scarfe gave the Schubert 'Great' C Major Symphony a dynamic reading with all the rhythmic vitality it needs. Occasionally there were balance problems due to Schubert's orchestration, but modern-day practice regards the tweaks that conductors of the Barbirolli generation employed as very non-PC. The performance of the finale, music which orchestras of Schubert's day deemed unplayable, had unflagging energy. A great concert.


Yorkshire Post 7th July 2007

SHOSTAKOVICH's Fifth Symphony is one of the major achievements of the 20th century, and at this concert Sinfonia Leeds gave one of its major performances. Brilliantly conducted by Douglas Scarfe, they conveyed its ambivalence and angst with bleak tone and brutal hysteria where called for, and at an inexorable steady pace.

Sustained intensity from the upper strings driven by the forward motion of the cellos and basses built the nightmarish tension required for the first movement. The grotesque waltz of the second movement was the more effective for the leaden quality of the brass - a forced and fearful dance. The profoundly melancholic slow movement - fiendishly difficult to get right - was electrifying. The faux triumph of the finale was unmistakable, with wind and brass "rejoicing" above the soul's screaming of the strings.

Scarfe's conception and execution of the work missed nothing. Even the piercing clarity of Shostakovich's orchestration was there - quite an achievement in The Great Hall's confined acoustic.

The Sinfonia provided a warm-toned accompaniment for their exquisite soloists Kevin Gowland and Eleanor Hudson in Mozart's Flute and Harp Concerto; and the concert opened with a measured performance of Richard Strauss' rarely-heard E flat Serenade for winds in which Scarfe's interpretation took its cue from the rather formal opening theme.

This excellent concert was doubly remarkable because Sinfonia Leeds are an amateur orchestra, sure among the best anywhere under the training and interpretative qualities of Douglas Scarfe.

Chris Robins

Yorkshire Post 10th February 2006

From a healthy number of scores submitted for the orchestra’s most laudable initiative, its 2005 Yorkshire Composers’ Competition, four were selected for an open rehearsal last autumn, shrewdly placing the players themselves among the judges. Their final choice fell upon a piece by Karen Gourlay, a former student at Leeds College and the University.

Called The Giggleswick Cat, it is as direct as the line sketch by Elgar that inspired it, and draws on similar skills of orchestration that make Enigma Variations such a masterpiece, a work that also haunts Gourlay’s short poem.

In the space of 10 minutes, she manages a neat ternary transition from the pastoral world invoked by its opening oboe solo over a well-heard harmonic framework, through an energetic core and back to the smooth landscape – real musical thought structured with proficiency and clear purpose.

Just part of a programme that excelled in enterprise and impressive playing.

Living up to its reputation as the region’s finest non-professional orchestra, associate conductor Douglas Scarfe also directed a rousing performance of Walton’s Portsmouth Point and two Debussy Nocturnes, drawing some exquisite string sound from the orchestra in Nuages.

Launching into Vaughan Williams’ 6th Symphony takes a high degree of stamina – and of that there was no scarcity. Its linked four movements and sharp changes of mood make it a monumental undertaking, and fine brass playing, warmth of horns and woodwind and a strong string sound gave it all it deserved.

Patric Standford

Yorkshire Post 28th June 2005

AFTER an exquisitely shaded and paced account of the Adagio for strings in which conductor Douglas Scarfe's fine players achieved a barely audible pianissimo following that great climax, we stayed with Samuel Barber for David Greed's eloquently poised performance of his Violin Concerto, a work of now somewhat unfashionable lyrical beauty and, in the finale, exhilarating energy, well charged with Greed's impressive technical command. There was an assured partnership between orchestra, soloist and conductor that communicated impressive commitment. He also played an attractive, brief and inconsequential early Nocturne for violin and strings by Shoenberg, a curious novelty, something like the sort of salon piece Elgar may have written in his own youthful Austro-German mode, beloved by Victorians, and never quite shaken off by the Edwardians.

Elgar may have done salon music better. What he did best was his Enigma Variations, a work that should be one proud to be English - and the orchestra met every challenge beautifully. The performance sounded scrupulously prepared, making us wonder why we need professionals!

All the pictured friends were magnificently revived; Steuart-Powell's tricky corners, Arnold's breadth and wit, the charmingly sedate Winifred, Dorabella as pretty as ever, and Scarfe took Nimrod at just the right speed to dispel those awful funereal associations.

Supporting the warmth of the excellent string section there was some lovely wind playing, and even in Elgar's rather pompous self-portrait at the end, overall balance was maintaned well.

Patric Standford

Yorkshire Post 23rd November 2004

CONDUCTOR David Greed has honed and refined the Sinfonia of Leeds into one of the most remarkable non-professional orchestras in the country. For this concert he also pulled off a coup in assembling three remarkable soloists - Frenchmen Arnaud Vallin (violin) and Jean-Phillippe Martignoni (cello) who are half of the Parisii Quartet, and British pianist Ashley Wass who was a Leeds Piano Competition finalist in 2000 - to play Beethoven's Triple Concerto together for the first time.

This is not one of Beethoven's thunderous concertos, it's most 'revolutionary' moment being the string harmonies accompanying the solo cello's first entry. Greed did, however, underline the hint of Fidelio and heroism in the first movement. The soloists treated the polonaise finale with restraint - no robust bravura display here - and were sensitively accompanied by Greed and the Sinfonia. The whole was a satisfying and reasoned account, with much respect for the work's utterly 'correct' classical form.

The concert began with Greed testing his players to the limit in Ravel's La Valse. After a tentative start they settled into the sweep of this bitter-sweet, ravishing and fiendishly complex work and I doubt if any other non-professional orchestra could have tackled it as convincingly.

The main work, Dvorak's New World Symphony, reveals something new on each hearing, and this time it was a single translucent phrase in the second movement played magically by Greed's violins. These violins have a warm and distinctive character all of their own, and the whole orchestra played with attack, precision and accuracy.

Chris Robins

Yorkshire Post 28th June 2004

SHOSTAKOVICH'S seventh symphony, written in the besieged Leningrad of 1941, provides a stern test of an orchestra's character - and an audience's loyalty. This fine amateur ensemble obliged with a performance of high drama which won an ovation from listeners who had kept faith with the 80-minute journey. The work is problematic in more than its length. It was the composer's immediate response to war and some early critics condemned it as trite. The passing years are proving kinder to it. This account bore the marks of diligent collective preparation and individual skill. The opening, strong and full of rhythmic purpose, set the tone so that the hypnotic invasion sequence, when it arrived, was charged with martial ferocity.

David Greed's success came from a clear view of the piece, sound rapport with the orchestra, intelligent phrasing and a firm, calm, unobtrusive beat. His equal achievement was in presenting such a convincing portrait of struggling, heroic human achievement. Technically, textures were mostly clear and the occasional woodwind stridency did no harm to a piece that lives on the edge. Brass, percussion and strings enjoyed a fruitful night.

The concert had opened with a world premiere that also deals with close perspectives. David(sic) Lynch's Red and White Domes is another song of a great city, in this case, Tunis. It's an attractive confident piece; lucid in structure, interesting in texture and rich in melodic reference points for the listener. It was bold of the Sinfonia to commission it; the risk paid off.

Robert Cockroft

Yorkshire Post 14th January 2004

THE young Japanese pianist Hideka Ozono came to Leeds four years ago to study with Fanny Waterman and take a post-graduate course at Leeds College of Music from where she graduated with distinction. But before that, she had enjoyed several notable concerto successes both here and in Japan and Romania.

Her performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto was confirmation of the experienced confidence and mature musicianship that proves so encouraging to any audience. It was a flexible reading, pleasing in all but the occasional disquieting proclivity to hesitate at the beginning of solo phrases, but here was a sincere musical instinct and a fine technique which made the dynamic contrasts, especially in the rondo finale. exciting.

From the very opening of Berlioz's Corsaire Overture It was evident that David Greed, their conductor, has created a strong and even string sound from his orchestra. That, (together with a polished and generally well balanced performance of the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, made the whole concert an exhilarating experience, and one for which for the good audience should have been even better.

There was some outstanding woodwind playing in the concerto and impressive contributions from saxophone, trumpet and tuba among others in Ravel's colourful orchestration. But Greed's attention in detail and the warm precision of the strings deserve the greatest praise.

Patric Standford

Yorkshire Post 1st July 2003

Within weeks of the release of his Delphian recording of piano music by Schumann, Peter Bradley-Fulgoni appeared as a powerful soloist in the third of Rachmaninov's concertos. He shaped its long phrases with great affection and its vigorous high spirits with what seemed effortless technical resources and yet a thorough musical maturity and finely-tuned sense of balance between rhythmic energy and relaxation.

The performance formed the first half of a vivid Russian programme in which both the Leeds Sinfonia and their conductor David Greed were in fine form. The accompaniment to the concerto was luxuriously warm with some telling wind playing, a rich body of string sound and a rewarding rapport between them and the soloist.

They seemed to have the measure of Shostakovich, too. Through the sturdy economy of his huge tenth symphony, its deadly humour and dark exultation, there was plenty of assured solo and ensemble playing. A biting rhythmic edge to the performance made it a memorable occasion and one that bodes well for next season's presentation of the Leningrad Symphony.

These pieces are stamina tests, and David Greed's strong positive command gave them buoyant support without losing the essential excitement of the dynamic contrasts.

Patric Standford

Yorkshire Post 24th June 2001

RETURNING to the scene of his triumph in the Leeds International Piano Competition not far short of four decades ago, Michael Roll was the distinguished guest of the Sinfonia of Leeds.

His account of the Brahms’ First Piano Concerto was a reminder of his very considered interpretation. His mix of robust virtuosity and perfectly-sprung rhythms yielded a profusion of tonal colours. Fingers did not always find their intended target, but it was rewarding to hear a performance where the music was allowed to dance. The Sinfonia of Leeds, making a rare appearance in the Town Hall, gave solid support, generating suitable vigour in the finale, their conductor, David Greed, skillfully correcting a couple of difficult moments.

We are fortunate in this part of the world to have such outstanding community orchestras. The Sinfonia, drawing on people from differing walks of life, combined to give a most enjotable performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.

They have a fine string section, the horn solo in the slow movement was beautifully played and, though not always perfectly in tune, the brass brough suitable excitement to the last movement.

David Denton

Yorkshire Post 24th April 2000

How it would have gladdened the hearts of the Parish Church's music lovers of former days to witness a magnificent performance of the most difficult and elaborate work ever to be performed there. There are strong associations with the hymn Praise to the holiest and Good Friday. It was, therefore, an inspired decision to perform it in Elgar's glorious setting, and in its true context. Conductor Simon Lindley's total identification with words and music was strongly evident throughout.

Often it was hard to think of the Sinfonia of Leeds as other than an accomplished professional orchestra, though occasionally they were too loud for the soloists. Martin Hindmarsh tended to strain on the high notes in Part 1, but when adopting a more relaxed manner his singing was deeply moving. We all expected Kathryn Woodruff and Quentin Brown to excel in Gerontius, and such was the case. The former's high notes were particularly thrilling.

The augmented St Peter's Singers were a superb, fine-toned, well-balanced ensemble, and though they lived dangerously in one or two places, problems were quickly surmounted.

Despite their busy week, the Parish Church's Choir formed an admirable, distant semi-chorus.

Donald Webster

Yorkshire Post 30th November 1999

Perhaps the acoustics were to blame for some enthusiastic piccolo playing which tended to disturb the balance in Rossini's Barber of Seville overture. That apart, it proved to be an enjoyable, stylish romp. In this performance of the 2nd Piano Concerto, it wasn't apparent that Chopin was a poor orchestrator, as commonly averred. Soloist Sir Ernest Hall, conductor David Greed and the orchestra took infinite care over details.

The notes of the piano's entry in the larghetto was like a string of finely fashioned pearls, and the canon with the bassoon was magical. Occasionally it sounded larger than life, as in the passage with the strings tremolando, but generally all the participants played with technical assurance and expressive surety.

Sibelius' 5th Symphony certainly had its moments, such as the high-class woodwind chorus, the strings' impassioned ardour and their subsequent extended pizzicato, but intonation suffered during the violins' first movement exchanges.

Many listeners think of the work as a preparation for the trumpet concluding brass perorations. Sadly the horns first came to unwonted grief, and then the trumpets were grievously inaccurate during their extended climax.

Donald Webster

Yorkshire Post 17th February 1998

At a time when many minds are focused on Elgar's late and lately-completed Third Symphony, it may be interesting to note that while for him the post-1919 era was out of joint, for close contemporary Janacek it was an Indian summer.

However, the neo-Dvorakian idioms of Janacek's early Suite give little hint of the later, gloom-laden operas. Its positive rhythms and rich scoring were strongly projected by Eno Koco, with sonorous woodwind and horns. Bach's A Minor Violin Concerto was played robustly by a large complement of strings, showing in its romantic treatment the composer as truly a man for all seasons.

Soloist Raimonda Koco gave the work a delightful East European ambience, showing full expressive tone, secure technique and impeccable intonation, supported by transparent orchestral textures. A carefully-crafted performance of Sibelius's Valse Triste was one of which any professional orchestra would have been proud. Schubert's sunny Fifth Symphony had charm and buoyancy, with alert dovetailing of strings and wind, beautifully-shaped modulations and delightful nuances. Its heart-easing andante and elegant minuet gave further evidence of the conductor and orchestra's outstanding quality, and their entitlement to a capacity audience.

Donald Webster

Yorkshire Post 14th October 1997

For more than 50 years no one has done more than James Brown to foster musical links between Town and Gown. His work at the university as lecturer, friend and counsellor has been matched by his achievements as organist and composer. 

In accordance with the Sinfonia's policy of promoting new music, Brown's Piano Concerto received its first performance on Sunday. It expresses much of his personality, and a wholesome modernity that has always formed a conspicuous part of his music make-up. Coherent, beautifully written for the piano, well-balanced texturally and melodious are a few of one's immediate reactions. Soloist Alan Cuckston's lovely tone and his obvious sympathy with the music combined with David Greed and the orchestra. If only more late 20th century works could open their arms to the listener in this manner.

The sinfonic attributes of Sibelius's 2nd were argued cogently if a little ponderously. Woodwinds had a Nordic tang, and the dark tones of bassoons and lower strings were well to the fore. Despite an occasional cracked note, brass choruses and powerfully eloquent violins created finely structured climaxes. The chromatic fanfares and surging strings - not forgetting the Tympani accompaniment to the second subject of Wagner's Rienzi Overture were highly enjoyable.

Donald Webster

Yorkshire Post 26th February 1997

Shostakovitch's Cello Concerto No.1 of 1959 remains a masterpiece of our time, its power, economy and skilful architecture justifying it being called neo-classical. For a little while conductor Peter Stark could not prevent the energetic first movement from accelerating, but its strong soloist Harriet Cawood kept a firm hold, and went on to give the luxurious slow movement just the magic and chilling passion it needed. The substantial cadenza, forming the third movement, was played with great confidence and a superb sense of phrasing, easily lost in favour of pure display. The orchestra, notably strings and the horn, made it a stirring performace.

Donald Webster's brief Elegy for Strings proved, if anything could, that our music critics are capable composers, and by that they earn the right to critisize. Webster's piece has its roots unashamedly in Elgar, and it was a good offspring of a secure parent, well made for its players.

In contrast, had Strauss been criticising, he may have made his own Serenade a good deal shorter, but it was a showpiece for some excellent wind playing.

Poulenc's 1947 Sinfonietta completed a characteristically fresh and enterprising programme with wit elegance and acetic jolity.

Patric Standford

Yorkshire Post 9th December 1996

This Christmas gala evening, the second concert in the orchestra's Silver Jubilee season, proved an event popular enough to fill the large hall. The twin attractions were the city's own fine orchestra and a programme of music from opera and ballet.

From the opening with Borodin's Prince Igor Overture, through the challenging contrasts of the Intermezzo to Cavalleria Rusticana, Manon Lescaut Prelude and a scene from Act One of Nucracker, the orchestra, under principal conductor, David Greed, sounded warm and confident with a rich overall string sound and a sensitive response to careful phrasing.

The guest soloists were soprano Maria Bovino and tenor Douglas Richards who were equal to the demands of an audience familiar with those favourite arias by Puccini, Bizet and Mozart.

The duets from Act One of La Boheme and Act Two of Carmen were delightfully balanced, and the solo songs from Figaro, Gianni Schicchi and every tenor's prize song Nessun Dorma from Turandot, were presented with sheer professional confidence and experience.

Patric Standford

Yorkshire Post 28th October 1996

Leeds should be proud of its Sinfonia. It is always more difficult for an amateur orchestra to rehearse a work in the soloist's absence and yet, in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, David Greed was able to direct his players in a positively rhythmic, well-balanced, sympathetic accompaniment.

Peter Maslin could not overcome all the technical problems in this fiendishly difficult opus, and he tended to slide between notes. However, at other times one was lost in admiration at his virtuosity - notably in the Finale - and his full tone during those passages of surging lyricism and nationalist outburst.

In this performance, Brahms's Second Symphony forsook its oft-times grey aspect, and the music took on a joyous extrovert quality. Rhythmic conflict and full textures unfolded with lucidity in this excellent acoustic. The Great Hall is now back in favour as a concert venue, and rightly so. Its amenities and aesthetic qualities are wholly praiseworthy. Ruthless brass created a turbulence deeper than mere surface agitation on Verdi's Force of Destiny overture. Strings attacked superbly in quicker sections but greater momentum during the woodwind solos would have carried more conviction and a fuller sound. Even so, this was a brilliant curtain-raiser to a splendid concert.

Donald Webster