CONCERT REVIEW: Serenading Lincs with Britten Sinfonia, Mark Padmore (tenor), Morgan Szymanski (guitar) and Martin Horn (horn), Crowland Abbey, Lincolnshire Rural and Community Touring
From the first moment when the bows slid across the stringed instruments on Sunday night, the Britten Sinfonia filled Crowland Abbey with magic.
The Serenading Lincs tour of four venues in the county by one of the most accomplished classical ensembles in the world, came to South Holland with works by English composer Henry Purcell, Hungarian Bela Bartok, Benjamin Britten and contemporary English composer Alec Roth.
In just 64 minutes, the sinfonia transpired to heights, depths, breadths and lengths of sound really heard in the flatlands of England.
Fortunately for the criminally spoilt audience inside the 12th century, the violinists, violists, cellists and double bass player who make up the Britten Sinfonia were not alone.
After opening the concert with Purcell's 17th century-composed Chacony in G minor, revived 300 years later by Britten in 1964 and described by the programme writer as a piece of "dynamic colouring", the Britten String Quarter followed it up with Bartok's Allegro molto capriccioso (Italian for cheerful, very capricious) from String Quarter No. 2.
This was no easy listen as Bartok's delving into eastern European folk music sounded more like the soundtrack from Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film, Psycho.
However, the arrival of Mexico-born guitarist Morgan Szymanski to join the sinfonia for Alec Roth's Concerto for Guitar and String Orchestra elevated the concert up to truly angelic heights.
A re-imagining of Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in D minor, which Szymanski blessed with a "wonderful singing quality", according to Roth, was graced with a flair, passion and texture that fully deserved the composer's very own seal of approval once it was played.
Once the 18-minute piece ended, unbeknown to the audience, a proud Alec Roth strode forward to congratulate Szymanski and the Britten Sinfonia for their immaculate treatment of his three-movements work.
Any doubts raised about Bartok's classical credentials based on his composition for strings were eased with the sinfonia's interpretation of the Hungarian composer's most celebrated work, Romanian Folk Dances.
Composed in 1915 for solo piano, the six dances that make up the total piece were the very opposite of the nightmare horror conjured by the Romanian region of Transylvania (made famous by Bram Stoker's Dracula) which Bartok visited before writing the work.
All that remained was for the Britten Sinfonia, tenor Mark Padmore and horn player Martin Owen to tackle Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.
A 24-minute piece showing Britten at his most musically mischievous, the body language of some of the Crowland Abbey audience suggested a similar feeling to that which greeted the Serenade's premier at London's Wigmore Hall in October 1943.
Dismissed for its "out-of-tuneness", as Britten described, the piece actually told the history of "Olde England" with string, horn and voice.
In 2013, the British Library entitled Britten's work "Poetry in Sound", while another music said of it: "Once heard, forever inseparable".
Before the night at Crowland Abbey ended, Padmore and Szymanski formed a duet to perform Alec Roth's Sometime I Sing, from the song cycle My Lute and I.
The excellence of the recital, just a stone's throw away from Trinity Bridge, was captured best by Alec Roth's words to this reviewer about Crowland Abbey at the end of the evening.
He said: "This place loves music, there's no other way of putting it.
"This place is magical", as was the music.
. You can listen to Serenading Lincs on BBC Radio Three this Thursday, November 29, at 7.30pm.
Review by Winston Brown