T he concert on 26th April at the U.R.C. was the undoubted highlight of the Sinfonietta's year so far. Rather sadly, it was heard by just 63 grateful and enthusiastic paying customers. What is it about the idea of chamber music for strings that causes some to stay away? Yes, we are used to orchestral music “on tap”, but most of the great composers, in the days of “live music or none”, confided their greatest thoughts and their highest devotion to the string quartet format and its close relatives. On this occasion it was a sextet – six members of the hardworking and technically brilliant Irwell Ensemble from Manchester, who last year delighted us with the great Mendelssohn Octet. This year’s composers were Brahms (pioneer of the string sextet format) and of all people Tchaikovsky, whose popular symphonies and concertos overshadow his occasional adventures into chamber music. Brahms’s First Sextet is a mature masterpiece of a composer aged 27 who had yet to write a symphony or a concerto. Mature, because he has clearly outgrown the fireworks and the anxious self-promotion and is prepared to give us serenity, depth of thought, and lively humour. If you were there you’ll recognise the description. By contrast, Tchaikovsky’s Sextet called Souvenir de Florence – no picture-postcard, but a really big four-movement work – came later than all his symphonies and concertos except the last. It’s not well-known, and this performance was truly a revelation. Fireworks there are, galore, and melodic beauty of the unique Tchaikovskyan brand. The players are worked very hard indeed. The Irwells rose triumphantly to every challenge. The tumultuous end brought a sense of delighted exhaustion to musicians and listeners alike. What a work! It could have been the product of a fiery 25-year-old, and the Brahms that of an experienced old master, but that’s the wonder of music. The Irwell Sextet was made up of: Dewi Tudor Jones and Rosy Williams (violins), Aimee Johnson and Fiona Dunkley (violas) and Doug Badger and Graham Morris (‘cellos). ed irk’s reiew of a memorale eenin I am writing this on the day I've done my sponsored walk. Together with committee chairman Colin Horlick and a friend of his, Mike Symons, I did the 11 miles from the start of the Sandstone Trail near Frodsham and finished at a village called Willington. Committee member Ian Thomas looked after us by being at arranged meeting places where he could make a “brew” and picking us up at the end to drive us back to Frodsham. It was an ideal walking day, warm but not hot and no rain. There were a few short climbs, but it was mostly fairly flat. It looks as though the walk will raise about £700. I'm staggered by the generosity of many people. Because St.Helens Sinfonietta is a professional orchestra, ticket income by itself can never cover all our expenses. We also depend on grants and fund-raising. Thank you to all those who have made a contribution. Details of the Sandstone Trail can be found at www.sandstonetrail.com Sinfonietta conductor Alan Free recently completed a sponsored walk for orchestra funds. Here’s his account: All smiles as Colin points the way.