REVIEW: Ely Sinfonia’s concert at Ely Cathedral is ‘something really special’

Steve Bingham.

Steve Bingham. - Credit: Archant

Under the expert baton of Steve Bingham, Ely Sinfonia presented a concert of French music in Ely Cathedral on Saturday.

The varied programme included ‘Danse Macabre’ by Saint-Saëns, ‘Chants d’Auvergne’ by Canteloube featuring soloists Tara Bungard and ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ by Berlioz.

The first work, ‘Danse Macabre’, contained all the ingredients of a vibrant emotional story of death as a symbolic figure. There was much swapping of instruments by these excellent performers during the evening and this was the first demonstration.

The lead violinist coped magnificently with the demands of the composer to retune the top string of one of her instruments to bring out the sinister death-like interval of the tritone (augmented fourth) that is so familiar and the dance of death that followed pulsated with rhythmic drive and vibrant, colourful orchestration.

The phenomenal technique of the conductor and instrumentalists was evident from the start and shaped this performance into something really special.

Tara Bungard (soprano) has an excellent voice. Breath control, placement and projection of the sounds into the massive cathedral were perfect, such that I could not help comment immediately afterwards – ‘Now THAT is how you sing!’

She coloured the songs from the Auvergne beautifully and when she reached the final one it became obvious why this work had been included in the programme.

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When the last song, Bailèro, began, there was an intake of breath from the audience – this very popular song used by so many in different scenarios, floated through this huge building exquisitely – a real spine-chilling affair. We are very fortunate to have this great singer in our midst.

The evening culminated with another well-known work: ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ and all the eccentricities, heart-wrenching climaxes and extremely varied scenes from the glittering splendour of waltzing dancers to the sinister toll of the death knell were conveyed confidently and effectively by this now experienced orchestra.

The fixed idea (idée fixe) – a unique melody that regularly appeared in different guises – expressed perfectly the haunted composer’s unrequited love for the Irish actress Harriet Smithson.

This composition was not easy to play, for a number of times instrumentalists were taken well away from their normal comfort zones to create amazing effects and these performers rose to these challenges magnificently.

For more information about this phenomenal orchestra see: