15th February 1998


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Soothing sounds of music

By Hussain Saibo

One of the best things about Sri Lanka's Independence jubilee celebrations was the opportunity afforded me to listen to the wonderfully rapturous sounds of the music performed by the English Chamber Orchestra at a public performance given by this world renowned chamber orchestral group at the Bishop's College Auditorium.

They led off their Sri Lankan debut on Independence Day February 4, Wednesday with a gala concert performance at the same venue attended by Prince Charles who is also the "proud patron" of the orchestra as he described himself in a note to the programme which the Standard Chartered Bank, who principally sponsored the event, put out.

The works played during both days were nearly the same except that the gala concert was shortened with the omission of the two works by Puccini and the contemporary composer Robin Holloway. The second performance I am sure like the first, was nothing less than superb and there was such purity in the playing.

What breathtaking beauty and fluency there was as the players came on at the beginning with the Mozart Cassation No. 1 in G. It was I believe inimitable indeed. Then it was for me an added thrill when Ashan Pillai, the Sri Lankan born British violist wearing a stylish red jacket took the lead playing the Vivaldi Viola Concerto in D in an entrancing virtuoso performance. Both this and all the other music that evening moved, enfolded with their soothing tones and elevated. The Puccini Chrysanthemums slowed things down to the pace of a kind of somnolent idyll, as it were, in preparation for the Robin Holloway Ode for Wind and Strings a piece of contemporary music whose rendition gave this genre a tantalising appeal. A colleague who happened to be at the concert described it as surreal, yet lovely. A mistimed applause after the first movement of the Vivaldi Concerto did not fluster either Pillai or the other members of the orchestra who took it in stride with charming smiles.

Schubert's Adagio and Rondo in A played after the interval was lyrical in the extreme and Haydn's Symphony No. 59 in A showed how an ensemble of this size could produce the full toned effects of a large scale orchestra. There were no drums and the wind section came out remarkably well with just 2 French horns and 2 oboes.

Lead violinist and leader of the ECO Paul Barrit who won the Greater London Arts Association's 'Young Musician of the Year' award in 1980 ensured perfect rapport between audience and ochestra that evening. The ladies of the orchestra turning up elegantly attired in sarees both surprised and delighted every one.

And capping it all was the mess at the end when the little girl who was prodded on-stage to garland Barritt chose to throw it around Ashan Pillai to the amusement of players and audience.

Next to the Bach Brandenburg Concerto played as encore piece, there couldn't have been an happier way to finish a fine evening of musically delirious delights.

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