If laughter is the best medicine, then the power of music to uplift the spirits cannot be far behind, especially when the music-making is imbued with such unadulterated joy. I doubt I’ve seen an orchestra have quite as much fun as the Västerås Sinfonietta last night at Kings Place. Presenting a programme entitled Wild Waves and Woods as part of the venue’s Nature Unwrapped series, it threw caution to the wind in exuberant accounts under Simon Crawford-Phillips that took us from the Isle of Staffa to Bohemian forests via the Carpathian Mountains.

Västerås Sinfonietta © Jonas Bilberg
Västerås Sinfonietta
© Jonas Bilberg

Founded in 1883, the Västerås may be one of Sweden’s oldest orchestras, but there was nothing venerable or stuffy about its performances here, played with most of its members standing (timps, cellos and double basses seated). Birdcalls and the crash of waves on shingle before the concert, in Chris Watson’s sound calendar from The Wash, prepared the way for Mendelssohn’s own seascape, The Hebrides. The swell of the sea was dramatically shaped by the 20 strings, buffeted by bracing, bright trumpet tone. A dulcet clarinet duet offered a brief lull before a stormy conclusion.

Andrea Tarrodi’s Zephyros proved just as evocative. Composed in 2010, it was inspired by Dan Andersson’s poem Sång till Västanvinden (Song to the Wind of the West). It surged and dipped, the high string writing, flecked percussion and turbulent brass reminiscent of the vast horizons of Britten’s Peter Grimes, before fading to the gentlest breeze. More earthy matters bustled in with György Ligeti’s boisterous Concert Românesc, given a rollicking performance. Wind players, who swapped “principal” positions all evening, shared many grins with their desk partners, the pair of bearded bassoonists bobbing to the beat. Crawford-Phillips’ jagged conducting style drove home the Romanian dance rhythms, not dissimilar to Bartók’s folk music explorations.

Cellist Paul Watkins exhibited a gorgeous tone in the warm bath that is Dvořák’s Silent Woods, before being joined by his former Nash Ensemble colleague Lawrence Power for Brahms’ Double Concerto. The clean mountain air of Thun clearly did Brahms the world of good. Holidaying in the Swiss resort in the summer of 1887, he composed the concerto as a peace offering to violinist Joseph Joachim after a major spat concerning the latter’s divorce. An amiable, meandering work was completely transformed here into something far more elemental and dynamic than I’ve ever experienced. Power towered over the cellist, often leaning towards him while Watkins puffed with exertion. The outer movements were muscular and rugged, while the Andante felt like an intimate, fireside conversation between two best friends. Their encore of Sibelius’ Raindrops – played pizzicato throughout – maintained the natural world programming to close the evening.

But had we really finished? The orchestra made as if to leave the stage, but instead swapped positions – woodwinds scattered, trumpeter on the podium – and launched into a flashmob rendition of Mozart’s overture to The Magic Flute. Played from memory, it was also largely played without a conductor, the redundant Crawford-Phillips beaming in admiration at his orchestra. The audience beamed too. Can I get the Västerås on prescription, please?

*****