This is the second visit the orchestra will have paid to Cambridge in less than a year. In April 2017 its programme featured cello virtuoso Guy Johnston playing Haydn’s Cello Concerto No.1 in C. And we will hear it again, this time with the outstanding BBC Young Musician of the Year 2016, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason.
Distinguished violinist, conductor and leader of the EU Chamber Orchestra since 2007, Hans-Peter Hofmann has chosen to begin the evening’s proceedings with Handel’s Water Music Suite, an occasional piece originally composed for a concert in honour of King George 1 as he journeyed down the Thames from Whitehall Palace to Chelsea in July 1717.
We can get some idea of what these water-borne musical pageants must have been like from a re-creation mounted for the present Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012.
Hopefully, King George avoided the terrible weather of that day, since one abiding memory is of its sustained and apocalyptic rainfall, throughout which a bedraggled and endearing Royal College of Music Chamber Choir heroically persisted with Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia.
But whatever conditions for its performance may be, Handel’s Water Music remains forever sublime.
Sheku Kanneh-Mason comes from a family of high-achieving musicians. Still in his teens he will play a ‘new’ concerto for cello by Haydn. The Cello Concerto in C Major only discovered in its entirety as recently as 1961, is ceremonial, lyrical and at times almost symphonic, calling for great technique, especially in its demanding last movement, almost designed as it were for the most virtuosic musicians to reveal their great gifts.
Sheku has recently made a substantial financial contribution to his former school to make possible the future of talented music students there. And he shares in this gesture great practical concern for the future of classical music among the young, and internationally, with two artists who have also within the last year graced the Corn Exchange stage, violinist Alexandra Soumm of the Esperanz ‘Arts foundation (www.esperanzarts.com) and last season’s Artist in Residence, trumpeter Alison Balsom, patron of the Brass for Africa project (brassforafrica.org).
Two short pieces by Delius, originally a choral work of 1917 - Two Songs to be sung of a Summer Night on the Water - but later rearranged for strings by Eric Fenby, his amanuensis, and entitled Two Aquarelles, continue the ‘watery’ theme of the Handel suite. The first of the two is a reflective and expressively transcendental composition, while the second is a more up-tempo conception making use of quintessentially English tunes from rhyme and folk tradition.
Finally, as late Winter slowly gives way to Spring, what better way to conclude a beautiful concert than with Mozart’s well-known Symphony No. 29, full of delicacy and optimism? The audience will leave not only feeling lightsome and with a spirit of hope, but also with determination not to miss the next event in the series, a visit by The Russian State Philharmonic on 7 March.