Northern Sinfonia, The Sage, Gateshead

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

This was a celebration - a "Réjouissance", as Handel has it in his Music for the Royal Fireworks - and Gateshead wasn't going to be upstaged by anybody.

This was a celebration - a "Réjouissance", as Handel has it in his Music for the Royal Fireworks - and Gateshead wasn't going to be upstaged by anybody. So, yes, there were whizz-bangs galore, in colourful array, set off from a Tyne-moored barge by the Sage's performance programme dir-ector, Simon Clugston. Plus, to round off, Handel's music, delivered in intermittently fizzing style by Nicholas Kraemer and leader Kyra Humphreys' Northern Sinfonia (the Réjouissance and a decidedly moving La Paix proved best; sapped of some energy, those Bourrées and Menuets felt a longer haul).

However, there were two palpable planning weaknesses. One was the (latterly) dragging duration of the initially delightful main work - Jonathan Dove's Work in Progress, a glorious film-led tribute, like some belated socialist realism eulogy of Stakhanovites, to the heroic men in hard hats whose efforts stitched together the curvaceous new excrescence beneath the Tyne bridges.

The other was producing a diva (and duly filling the building, whose wonderfully spacious, airy foyers coped superbly) and then using her only once. Lesley Garrett - still our lass from the song competitions, girlishly nervous in her pink specs with anxiously, needlessly clutched score - proclaiming Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate (very presentable, even the whizzing coloratura - although she looked and sounded as if she wasn't lauding anyone in particular - certainly not the good Lord). Here was a jolly person with a whole musical box of great numbers - and yet she merely hopped out into the ample wings, never to be seen or heard again.

There was more Mozart - his Magic Flute Overture, delivered with aplomb by Kraemer's team after three rocky Sarastro chords. And that linked with the following composer, Jonathan Dove (his Flute Concerto bears the title The Magic Flute Dances), who has penned a new celebratory piece teeming with all sorts of ideas, if without exactly the conciseness of Beethoven's The Consecration of the House.

The joy of the show was the wonderful photography of the four-year building of the Sage by John Park and others, stitched into an inspired sequence by Philip Shotton. His photo sequence seemed to unravel near the end, nobody quite knew why; it bore scant apparent relation to the music: no Bergian unravellings or audible crab-canons - although the pianist Rolf Hind and the entire orchestra were super.

The children and young performers brought in near the close - the able youth folk band Folkestra, members of the award-winning North East and Cumbria big band Jambone, the charming Gateshead Children's Choir - were frankly wasted: drowned out and, even worse, given much needless horn doubling, patronised. Oh dear. Now let's have a real Sage event from these super young forces.

Comments