PROM 34: Bychkov revels in Strauss, and the Labéques battle through Dubignon.

Schubert, Dubignon, Richard Strauss: Katia and Marielle Labéque, two pianos, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Semyon Bychkov, conductor, Royal Albert Hall, London, 8.8.2012 (CG)

 

Schubert: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor “Unfinished.” (1822)

Richard Dubugnon: Battlefield Concerto (2011) UK Premiere

Richard Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 (1897-1898)

The hot news is that Russian born conductor Semyon Bychkov has been appointed to a new position specially created for him by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The Gunter Wand Conducting Chair has been chosen as Bychkov’s new title in recognition of the relationship the BBC Symphony Orchestra had with Wand when he was appointed Principal Guest conductor 30 years ago.

Bychkov and the orchestra already know each other well, and the new arrangement promises to be an exciting one. This evening we could look forward to a mixed programme spanning nearly two hundred years.

In the cavernous space of the Royal Albert Hall Schubert’s “Unfinished” began almost inaudibly; this was a shame because the opening cello and bass motif, and the restless string figures that follow it, form essential ingredients in the structure; it is essential to hear them! Resulting from this, the first woodwind entries felt a little too strong, but once things got underway we were on safer ground, and there was much to admire in the lyricism and drama of the movement. But there remained, overall, a tentative sense that did not help the musical flow. The same feeling of “holding back” characterised the second movement; again there was some beautiful playing from the woodwind, and this most perfect of Schubert’s creations affected us all over again with its touching simplicity and almost unbearable poignancy. Nevertheless some doubts remained; Bychkov’s sensitivity is commendable but does the music benefit from being quite as fragile as this?

The platform then needed radical re-organisation. The French/Swiss composer Richard Dubignon’s Battlefield Concerto, composed for tonight’s soloists, calls for an unusual orchestral layout, with the forces divided into two quite separate halves, although the overall instrumentation is that of a standard symphony orchestra with a few additions. One half, to the left, features high winds, and includes a bass guitar, the second, to the right, lower winds. Thus each pianist has her own orchestra; Dubignon’s idea is that the two pianists and their orchestras face each other and do battle.

The composer’s starting point was a painting by the 15th century Florentine artist, Paolo Uccello entitled “Battaglia di San Romano.” Insofar as it follows the events of a make-believe battle, Dubugnon’s piece is programmatic and theatrical, and Dubugnon’s notes help you follow the battle’s events without too much difficulty; without them the work might have felt too rambling.

Balcony trumpet players, left and right, sound calls. During the next twenty-five minutes the two pianists announce their individual themes and elaborate on them widely, never joining with the same material until the very end. There are cadenzas, parades, battles, a funeral, a triumphal march, a peaceful section of reconciliation and finally a feast.

The piano and orchestral writing is often florid, flashy and fearfully difficult, with elements of, perhaps, Messaien, Bartok, Ravel, jazz, rock – you name it. From that point of view it’s ideally suited to the Labéque sisters with their extraordinarily varied musical enthusiasms, and it’s highly entertaining in a fairly chaotic kind of way. The sisters tackled it with characteristic verve, with Bychkov, who is married to Marielle Labéque, marshalling his forces admirably. Hearing it a second time on BBC iPlayer, I made a lot more sense of the piece; ideas come and go continually, and the warlike nature of most of the music certainly comes across vividly, with more contemplative passages offering welcome relief. Whether the material really adds up I’m not so sure, and I will delve into it some more, but I worry that with so many influences clearly discernible the composer’s own personality is hard to pinpoint.

Ein Hldenleben, after the interval, was a real treat!

In an introductory talk on Radio 3, Bychkov reminded us that the proper translation of ein Heldenleben is “A Heroic Life,” and not just “A Hero’s Life;” thus the sentiment behind the piece could be said to be that every life is heroic to some extent. Strauss was not merely thinking of himself, then, and although there are obviously autobiographical aspects, perhaps he sought a bigger picture. At the age of 51, Strauss was entering a new period in his creative life; the twentieth century had not yet begun, and he was still to write Electra. Yet in ein Heldenleben Strauss looks forward to the new century, and one is struck by how much this work belongs to the 20th rather than the 19th with its huge orchestra, spectacular orchestration, daring harmonies, and operatic drama.

Bychkov was absolutely in his element here in a performance full of passion, excitement, and great beauty. The guest leader, Sergey Levitin, was well on top of the crucially important solo violin part portraying the composer’s wife, Pauline, complete in all her myriad complexities. The second battle of the evening was terrifying, with marvellous brass and percussion work, and the subsequent tutti passage, in which Strauss remembers some of his past works, absolutely enthralling. If there were one or two rough edges, they certainly did not detract one bit from a performance which carried us through all six main sections and was choc-a-bloc with flair. Glorious!

Christopher Gunning

August 9, 2012 |

PROM 16: Hugh Wood’s Piano Concerto and British and French Sea Music

Elgar, Hugh Wood, Ravel, and Debussy: Joanna MacGregor, piano, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ryan Wigglesworth, conductor, Royal Albert Hall, 26.7.2012 (CG)

 Elgar: In the South (Alassio) Op. 50 (1903-4)

Hugh Wood: Piano Concerto, Op. 32 (1989-91)

Ravel: Une Barque sur l’océan (1904-5, orch 1906)

Debussy, orch Henry Wood: La Cathédrale Engloutie (1910, 0rch, 1919)

Debussy: La Mer (1903-1905)

Hugh Wood is now in his eightieth year, and was present to hear his former pupil Joanna MacGregor play his Piano Concerto tonight, and not for the first time – he originally wrote it for her and the 1991 Proms season. Cast in the traditional three movements, it is anything but traditional in style, and is one of Wood’s most personal and original works. It contains elements of jazz, has Latin American rhythms, frequent episodes of dissonant harmony, and it has an emotional flavour somewhat reminiscent of the late Viennese school which is nevertheless Wood’s own. Macgregor’s wide-ranging musical interests are thus expressed alongside those of the composer, who has single-mindedly trod his very own musical path and seldom been afraid to include all manner of diverse references and influences in his multi-faceted music. The Proms have justly been relatively kind to Wood: it was his Scenes from Comus which attracted a good deal of attention when first performed in 1965, and since then his Cello Concerto has been programmed three times as well as his Symphony, and Variations for Orchestra.

The Piano Concerto is a rich and fascinating work with a predominantly energetic and dissonant first movement, a reflective slow movement, and a largely playful and rhythmically alive finale. The composer employs serial techniques in the first movement in a dramatic and often abrasive way. Its sonata form is derived from classical models, and interplay between orchestra and soloist is a vital feature, with the orchestra contributing as strongly as the soloist.

Most immediately beguiling is the central movement in which the tune “Sweet Lorraine” receives several variations reminding us of late-night jazz, but never sounding exactly like it. Think Bartok’s nocturnal music, and you’re some of the way there, but this is Wood, through and through. I enjoyed this immensely, and the last movement too, with it’s good-natured counterpoint and sprightly rhythms. Macgregor was a lively and sympathetic soloist, and seemed to be completely in tune with Wigglesworth and the splendid National Orchestra of Wales; it was good to see the composer on the platform afterwards receiving the very warm applause.

The rest of the programme was a grand cocktail of English and French sea or seaside music. Elgar’s In the South, composed at great speed while Elgar stayed in Italy to avoid the miseries of the English winter, got the concert off to a bright start, receiving an enthusiastic performance, with the influence of Richard Strauss abundantly clear; how lovely the themes are, how engaging the counterpoint is, and how brilliantly the piece is orchestrated! This is Elgar at his sunniest and most confident – just the thing after a baking hot day in a London suffused with Olympic fever.

Then, after the interval, Ravel’s Une Barque sur l’océan reminded us that Ravel was human after all and could occasionally compose pieces lacking the absolute perfection achieved in his main output. Yes, it’s effective enough in its portrayal of a sailing ship tossing on the waves, and it offers a glimpse of what was to come with its delightful touches of instrumental colour, but it’s no more than a pleasing miniature. It is the third of his piano pieces, Miroirs, and the orchestrated version played tonight was withdrawn by Ravel after its first unsuccessful performance, never to be performed again until after his death. Ravel was smarting from failing to win the coveted Prix de Rome, and being unfavourably compared to his senior compatriot, Claude Debussy. Conductor and orchestra did their best with the piece tonight but perhaps Ravel was wise to withdraw it after all…

But there was far worse to come. Sir Henry Wood’s orchestration of La Cathédrale Engloutie is pretty awful! There’s a special skill involved in orchestrating Debussy’s piano music, with its exquisite pianistic colours and extensive use of the sustaining pedal, and on the strength of this, Sir Henry didn’t have it. It is grossly over-orchestrated – complete with organ pedal notes, trombones, tuba, percussion – the works! Frankly, it’s almost laughable. This performance was not helped by Wigglesworth’s rather fast tempi, but the main problem was Sir Henry’s use of everything bar the proverbial kitchen sink to express what is in its original form primarily a touchingly suggestive and on the whole rather delicate piece.

Sanity was restored with La Mer, Debussy’s definitive symphonic portrait of the sea in all its moods. This was very well done! I don’t mean that Wigglesworth and his orchestra offered any amazing revelations here, but that they simply gave us a thoroughly idiomatic, honest, and colourful performance which absolutely delighted this listener. I would not dispute one single tempo – there was pace and reflection in equal measure. And I would heap praise, especially, on the woodwind soloists, who according to the programme were Juliette Bausor (flute), David Cowley (oboe), Sarah-Jayne Porsmoguer (Cor Anglais), Robert Plane (clarinet), and Juroslaw Augustyniak (bassoon). There was some really lovely French Horn playing from Neil Shewan too, and the strings sounded deliciously French.

The conductor was to have been Thierry Fischer, but due to illness Ryan Wigglesworth took over at short notice. He is to be congratulated in directing a far from easy programme with considerable skill and panache. Still in his thirties, and with a growing reputation both as conductor and composer, his is certainly a talent to be nurtured.

 

Christopher Gunning

 

 

July 27, 2012 |

PROM 13: Barenboim’s Beethoven and Boulez Cycle reaches its penultimate stage.

Beethoven and Boulez: Michael Barenboim, violin, Gilbert Nouno, IRCAM computer music designer, Jérémie Henrot, IRCAM sound engineer, West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, conductor. Royal Albert Hall, London, 24.7.2012 (CG)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F Major Op. 93 (1812)

Boulez: Anthèmes 2 (1997)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major Op. 92 (1811-1812)

Tonight it was the turn of Beethoven’s 7th and 8th Symphonies to receive the Barenboim treatment. The previous night’s concert, showcasing the 5th and 6th Symphonies, was a hard act to follow and I wondered, particularly, what he would make of the 8th, often unjustly relegated to 2nd rank in Beethoven’s output. In the event, Barenboim unsurprisingly opted mostly for “big.” This was a totally serious view, by which I don’t mean humourless; some might even describe it as old-fashioned because of the presence of such a large string section complete with eight double basses, but Barenboim is not interested in adopting a “period” approach to Beethoven’s symphonies.  Early music diehards, please keep away and stop complaining! This is a man who came up through the ranks of Furtwangler, Klemperer, Stokowski and Barbirolli, who has lived in these symphonies for more years than most, and has something to say about them.

The first movement was tautly dramatic, with plenty of bluster but also ample grace. One aspect of Barenboim’s interpretations is his comprehensive grasp of form – one usually feels one is on an unstoppable journey from start to finish, and it was mostly the case here – Beethoven’s frequent contrasts of dynamics, often from one phrase to the next, never really getting in the way of the overall shape. In the second movement, often taken to be a parody of the recently invented metronome, Barenboim favoured brisker tempi than some; one might have wanted a little more wit, but there was some, and again there was plenty of drama and contrast. Some good humour again suffused the third movement, with its reinvention of the by now obsolete minuet, and the well-known horn and clarinet solos in the trio section were beautifully done. The final movement was fast and furious, its complex form seeming straightforward in comparison to some more laboured views.

Another success, then! This symphony, a favourite of composers as diverse as Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, really needs no apologies whatsoever. Among its more remarkable attributes is that Beethoven composed this predominantly sunny work when already seriously troubled by deafness, and other life events. Yet its optimism shines through, even in this somewhat darker, more serious reading, and he himself sometimes said he preferred it to his 7th.

Most of the Boulez works during this series have been for solo instruments or small ensembles. Tonight it was left to Barenboim’s son Michael, who leads the orchestra, to give us Anthèmes 2, an extended piece for solo violin and electronics. The Royal Albert Hall is proving an unexpectedly marvelous space in which to appreciate Boulez’s small-scale opuses; tonight we had the lone violinist on stage surrounded by loudspeakers pinned high on the walls broadcasting music and effects devised by a sound designer and an engineer from IRCAM. Boulez says that in choosing the title he was influenced by his childhood memories of psalms sung during Holy Week – the Lamentations of Jeremiah. This often beautiful work enthralled for most of its twenty-five minutes, with antiphonal effects whizzing around the hall – sometimes there are masses of pizziccatti, sometimes lyrical lines, and sometimes aggressive scraping noises. It’s virtually impossible to describe – you have to hear it! Michael Barenboim deserves a Victoria Cross for his dedicated performance, and the audience should be congratulated for remaining so silent during a piece which eventually strained their powers of concentration. If in the end the piece outstayed its welcome, never mind – it was another experience not to be missed.

Back to Beethoven, and the mighty Symphony no. 7; this was another big performance, and if I wondered if things in general were perhaps a little on the hurried side, irrepressible energy was the other side of the coin. The dynamic contrasts now loved by Beethoven, and an essential ingredient in his middle and late styles, are very much in evidence here, and in the wrong hands they can feel overbearing. That I only began to feel that way towards the very end may be a tribute to Barenboim and his wonderful orchestra, and let’s not forget that commentators have found the finale the work of a complete madman! It wasn’t, of course, but that a kind of demonic fury marks passages in that movement is undeniable. Along with the opening of the 5th Symphony, the Ode to Joy, and the Moonlight Sonata, the Allegretto from the 7th Symphony will be to many their best loved of Beethoven pieces; it turns up all over the place, including (incongruously, to my taste) in the King’s Speech. Tonight it commenced with no pause after the first movement – a shame, I thought, because it seemed to diminish the movement’s initial effect. It was taken at a steady pace – slower than some, quicker than others, and probably just about right. The steady momentum soon made its mark, and that something so hackneyed could still feel fresh is another tribute to Barenboim. I have been conscious throughout these performances that despite his roots in a central European tradition, Barenboim’s performances do feel like reinventions in the very best sense. The scherzo was incredibly frenetic and fast – again it followed with no break – with the trio sections alternately touching and grand. And then, with precious little time to draw breath, that last movement – as fast as I’ve heard it, and positively galloping with enthusiasm. Plenty of youthful energy here! You would have to be a pretty moribund individual not to be thrilled by the horns and trumpets blasting away, the strings dashing around, and finally, by the sheer exuberance of it all.  Terrific. Onward, now, to the Ninth.

Christopher Gunning

July 25, 2012 |

PROM 12: Barenboim’s Beethoven and Boulez Cycle continues.

Beethoven and Boulez: Guy Eshed, flute, Hassan Moataz El Molla, cello, West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, conductor. Royal Albert Hall, London, 23.7.2012 (CG)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F Major ‘Pastoral’ (1802-1808)

Boulez: Mémoriale (‘… explosante-fixe …’ Originel) (1971-1983)

Boulez: Messagesquisse (1977)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor (1804-1808)

 

There is hope for Man! With music making of this order, made by young people from politically opposing groups, love and understanding is being spread around the world for all to see and hear. Barenboim’s work with Jewish and Palestinian musicians has been very well publicised, and it demonstrates that music – our common language – has the power to heal the most impossible rifts. Who could fail to be moved by that? These unmissable concerts are quite simply some of the most inspiring I’ve ever been privileged to attend.

The eight double basses spread impressively to the left behind the orchestra told us straight away that these were going to be big performances by a big orchestra. With Barenboim there is no pandering to early music tastes; no period instruments and no lack of vibrato in the strings. Yet the Pastoral floated gently into the world tonight, just as it should, and I was struck all over again by how revolutionary this work truly is. It is hailed as one of the first essays in programme music, although Beethoven said it has “more the expression of feeling than painting,” and we were treated to a day in the country complete with sparkling brooks, chilly winds, rain, a super-loud cuckoo, and a particularly violent storm. It was a journey full of poetry and drama, and a time to love natural things. Nobody had painted pictures or described feelings in music quite so vividly before. And nobody had used repetitive figures in quite the same way either; that Beethoven was a forerunner of composers as diverse as Sibelius and Steve Reich was brought home forcibly to me tonight.

Beethoven worked on the 5th and 6th symphonies simultaneously. The two works were even performed for the first time at the same concert, along with several others of Beethoven in 1808. In his late twenties, and at the height of his powers, there was seemingly nothing the genius couldn’t achieve, and his mind was taking him in many directions at once. The 5th Symphony was no less revolutionary than the 6th, but here is a work that is quite deliberately on an enormously grand scale for the time. Barenboim gave us a performance with plenty of rhythmic vitality and power. The first movement was taken at a perfect tempo for the famous rhythm to make its mark – restless but not hurried. The horns were magnificent, and the oboe’s unexpected solo in the recapitulation – a touch of genius – was meltingly done. There was much grace and humanity to admire from the cellos in the second movement, and in the closing stages of the third movement you could have heard a pin drop. This provided an excellent foil for the entry of the last movement, where the brass blew my head off! There were plenty of other touches to admire, too – all manner of delights in phrasing, and I’ve never heard the piccolo stand out quite so well at the end of the whole symphony.

In co-creating and working with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Barenboim has melded his group of impressive musicians into his very own instrument, which he plays with superb musicianship. The overall tone may not be quite as full-bloodied as, say, the Berlin Philharmonic or the Bavarian Radio Symphony, but it is certainly not lacking in power or expressiveness. The woodwinds make big soloistic sounds, the brass are vibrant, the strings warm. The degree of understanding between conductor and orchestra allows Barenboim to adopt an extraordinary conducting style. Everything is obviously very well rehearsed, leaving Barenboim to conduct in his own highly unorthodox manner. Sometimes he stops beating altogether. Sometimes he’ll shape a particular phrase, while ignoring others. Sometimes he’ll simply waggle a finger. Sometimes there’s a baton, sometimes not. And so on – there’s hardly anything conventional about it. For the most part it works, presumably because of all that rehearsal, but sometimes it doesn’t quite. Ensemble is not always super-precise. By and large it doesn’t matter at all, because the energy and musicality of the performances carries us through the occasional blemish.

In the Boulez works, sandwiched by the Beethoven symphonies, Barenboim was more apt to beat time – the complexity of the music demands that he does so. I noticed this very different approach most noticeably in the performance of Dérive 2 at Prom 9, reviewed by Mark Berry in “Seen and Heard.”

The two Boulez works performed tonight are exquisitely beautiful pieces, and both received thoroughly confident performances. Mémoriale (‘… explosante-fixe …’ Originel), in which the outstanding soloist was Guy Eshed, has accompanying parts for three violins, two violas, a cello and two horns. The part for the flute is extremely florid with a lot of flutter-tongueing, and the other instruments pick out notes, quietly forming a halo around the flautist. You might think it wouldn’t work in the vast Albert Hall – but it did, and, moreover, was spellbinding.

Messagesquisse (Messages/Quest) is another of Boulez’s lovely short pieces, this time featuring a solo cello, perfectly performed by Hassan Moataz El Molla, with six cellos contributing quiet notes until suddenly the music becomes absolutely frenetic. Once again, it’s brilliantly effective, and it’s something of a mystery why these and other pieces by Boulez have not become concert favourites yet. The members of the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra have shown that there’s absolutely nothing difficult for an audience to appreciate, and these young players take to the music as naturally as music from the standard repertory.

This is a happy orchestra. I know that because I talked to some of the musicians afterwards on the way to South Kensington station. They were full of fun and joie de vivre. They love their music director, and he loves them. And after last night, I love them all too.

Christopher Gunning

 

 

July 24, 2012 |

Julian Anderson, Delius and Elgar in a fascinating evening with the London Philharmonic

Julian Anderson, Delius, Elgar: Roderick Williams (baritone), London Philharmonic Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ryan Wigglesworth (conductor), Sir Mark Elder (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, London, 24.3.2012 (CG)

Julian Anderson: The Discovery of Heaven (world premiere)

Delius: Sea Drift (1903-4)

Elgar: Symphony No 1 in Ab Major, Op 55 (1907-8)

We had two conductors tonight; the young Ryan Wigglesworth for the Anderson, and Sir Mark Elder for the Delius and the Elgar.

The Discovery of Heaven is Julian Anderson’s latest orchestral work for the London Philharmonic, of which he is composer in residence. It is a piece in three movements influenced by a novel by Harry Mulisch, and Japanese Gagaku music, which is the oldest Japanese classical music. Several composers have shown an interest in it in the past, including Messaien, Britten, Alan Hovhaness, and Henry Cowell. Anderson was particularly attracted to the very high glistening textures this music often has, and consequently the woodwinds have a hell of a lot to play in this piece. Mind you, it’s also a workout for everyone else – Anderson does not generally do “simple” for very long!

The first movement, entitled “An Echo from Heaven,” starts arrestingly; phrases with long notes in the woodwind terminate with dazzling squiggles. At first separated by silences, they gather momentum progressively until there’s an absolute mass of trembling sounds from the orchestra. It is tremendously effective. The second movement, “In the Street,” is something of a collage of the chaotic sounds one might hear in a busy city thoroughfare; it develops into quite an infernal racket with various types of music popping up from here, there, and everywhere. The last movement, “Hymns,” is far more lyrical at first, but elements of the second movement return to interrupt and almost destroy Anderson’s melodies. Finally, we are left with lapping string music which dies away with no resolution.

Advertised at seventeen minutes, but actually lasting a good deal longer, there was a lot to take in on a first hearing. There is no doubting Anderson’s amazing orchestral fluency, as one highly effective section follows another. I did worry that the textures in the second movement became so densely complicated and chaotic as to lose overall effect, and it’s fairly disturbing to see musicians scurrying around their instruments when you can’t hear what they’re playing. I certainly lost the thread during this movement and began to do so again in the third. Does Anderson always employ the most direct means to express his thoughts and ideas? I’m not so sure – but I do need to hear the piece repeatedly to get to grips with it properly. Ryan Wigglesworth and the LPO certainly appeared to cope with it brilliantly.

In the event, it was Delius who was to bring us a little closer to heaven. Sea Drift is frequently praised as Delius’s finest work, and yet, along with most of his output, one seldom hears it performed nowadays. It emerged, beautiful as ever, in this sensitive performance, with Roderick Williams and Sir Mark Elder obviously loving every nuance. No less magical was the singing of the excellent London Philharmonic Choir. It is not surprising that Sea Drift became so popular in Germany and Europe generally; it is full of Wagnerian harmonic and melodic influences and when not being operatic in style has an intimacy not far removed from German Leider. Walt Whitman’s poetry provided the perfect vehicle for Delius’s craft – touching in it’s portrayal of the lonely seagull who has lost his mate, and simultaneously conveying the aching loneliness of bereavement that we all feel. Don’t ever think that Sea Drift doesn’t have a human dimension!

If Delius was often more German than British, the same could hardly be said of Elgar, especially in his First Symphony, despite the composer being a huge admirer of the Austrian/German symphonic tradition, and the works of Brahms in particular. Few would argue that it doesn’t contain some of his finest music, and it achieved enormous success straight away, with a hundred performances within the first year. Imagine a concert composer of today being recognised in this way!

With its massive dimensions, it takes a skilled and dedicated conductor to guide an orchestra through its complex narrative successfully. Elder is as dedicated as any, and gave a thoroughly well considered, idiomatic and polished account, with the “noble” gestures not overdone, the intimate moments, especially in the slow movement, touchingly but never sentimentally interpreted, and the scherzo perfectly poised. To end a fascinating evening, the finale’s closing pages were genuinely thrilling, marred only by some over-enthusiastic members of the audience being far too eager to shout “bravo!” almost before the music had finished.

Christopher Gunning

 

 

March 25, 2012 |

Nico Muhly, the Britten Sinfonia, and friends at the Barbican.

PART ONE

Mazzoli, Pallett, Muhly: Oliver Coates (cello), Pekka Kuusisto (violin/director), André de Ridder (conductor), Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Gould (leader)

PART TWO

Nico Muhly (keyboards), Doveman (Thomas Bartlett) (keyboards), Owen Pallett (cello and voice), Nadia Strota (viola), Sam Amidon (guitar and voice), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Oliver Coates (cello), Thomas Gould (violin), Barbican Hall, 16.3.2012. (CG)
Missy Mazzoli: Violent, Violent Sea (European premiere)

Owen Pallett  Violin Concerto (World premiere)
Nico Muhly  Cello Concerto (World premiere)

An 802 Moment – informal songs and pieces.
Dear reader, you probably know it already, but the Britten Sinfonia is one of the very best ensembles to be found anywhere. It is blessed with string players to die for, with simply wonderful wind and brass players too, and anybody brought in for special purposes has to be of an equally astonishing standard.

The composers featured tonight, therefore, were fortunate. They surely could not have wished for more enthusiastic and polished performances, undoubtedly helped by the German conductor, Andre de Ridder, with his sure direction. And the Sinfonia has been highly instrumental in promoting Muhly in various concerts over the past couple of years or so. As a result of this, performances by some other orchestras and choirs, and the opera “Two Boys” recently premiered by ENO, Muhly might be as popular here as in his home town, New York. He and the very different Thomas Ades are most frequently quoted as the young firebrands of today.

And what of the music? It has to be said that one has to crawl through an awful load of hype to reach Nico Muhly and his comrades. Here are some samples: ‘Think Muhly, think youthful no-rules classical, full of cross-genre inventiveness.’ (BBC Music) ‘The hottest composer on the planet’ (Daily Telegraph.) ‘A new wave of musicians have revitalised the contemporary music landscape, eroding the boundaries between rock, classical, electronica and folk – making richly-textured music for adventurous listeners.” (Barbican programme)

Now to be fair to the 29 year-old Muhly, he reportedly hates the hype; when you’re built up into a colossal revolutionary genius, it’s all too easy for the reality of the music to be disappointing and for some to come along and carp. Nevertheless Muhly is excellent at promoting his own work (nothing wrong with that!) and his web site is a model for other composers to follow: http://nicomuhly.com/projects/2007/honest-music/ Muhly is a child of his times, brought up with Apple computers, synthesisers, samplers, sequencing programmes and the internet, and he uses everything to hand perfectly naturally.

The first two works tonight were not by Muhly, but two of his colleagues whose thinking Muhly must be completely in sympathy with. The first of these, Missy Mazzoli, found that studying with Louis Andriessen was life-changing and has also been much influenced by Philip Glass. Violent, violent Sea is anything but violent for much of the time. It makes much of two or more textures going on a once – vibraphone and/or marimba playing repetitive filigree passages, with slow moving harmonies in the strings – sometimes moving “conventionally,” and sometimes not. The strings also contribute active passages, and the title does feel more and more appropriate.  – it’s a perfectly attractive and effective piece, if not earth-shattering.

With Pallet’s Violin Concerto, three separate influences are described in the programme note: Bach, the Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya, and Ligeti. Unfortunately I found some of the material, repeated over and over again in the manner of Philip Glass, somewhat trivial, although Pallet’s textures for the strings and percussion are frequently interesting. The second movement had more verve, and the third movement, with much use of quarter-tones, is presumably where the Ligeti influence comes to the fore; for me this became a bit of a trial. With the last movement we were back to minimalistic repetitions of rhythms and short figures.

Muhly’s own Cello Concerto had more meat. I enjoyed some of the contrasting textures; Muhly uses pizzicato strings and quiet chordal motifs to great effect, and there’s good use of growling trombone snarls. Sometimes I felt the orchestral parts to be more interesting than the solo part, which wasn’t always clearly audible, although played with obvious involvement by Coates. In the second movement, Glass-influenced repetitive passages are back to the fore. Then it suddenly turns into something rather funereal – and ends.

After the interval, the lighting changed to a moody blue, and the stage was completely rearranged; no more Britten Sinfonia – now it was the turn of Muhly and guests to sing some songs and play various pieces in an informal jam session. This was really two concerts and, strange as it may seem, the disparate nature of parts one and two served to emphasise the differences rather than the commonality of two different types of music making.

So – is Muhly “the hottest composer on the planet?” If you say so, yes; the hall was choc-a-bloc, and the audience was mostly 30-minus. (Incidentally, it had also been full the night before for the LSO with Brahms, Strauss, and Mahler, but I suppose we cannot call them “hot.”) But all that hype – is it justified? Muhly and friends are instantly likeable, energetic, enthusiastic, refreshing, and we should applaud the way they move easily between pop music and non-pop. In part 2, with his introductions at the piano, Muhly also revealed himself to be quite an entertainer. But here’s the rub; was there anything at all tonight that bowled me over with its startling originality, or even strength of character? Sadly, no. Steve Reich was doing some of this stuff years ago, and so was John Adams. Come to that, so was Philip Glass in his way, although I’ve never personally considered his work to be quite the match of the other two. And then there are those songs and other pieces forming part two; it was all okay and well done – but no more, and I’d rather have been listening to someone like Jimmy Webb from the 70’s or 80’s (and still going strong), or umpteen folk artists from yesteryear – and has Nico Muhly listened to Keith Jarrett on the piano? A rhythmically clever and tricky piece for the viola allowed Nadia Strota to display her considerable technical skills, and yet when all was said and done I left the hall feeling decidedly “so what.”

But then I haven’t ever believed that minimalism in music – which, whether they admit to it or not provides the essential building blocks of this latest “New York School,” could be any more than a fascinating, and perhaps purifying episode in music history, but other means of moving forward have been found, and a darn sight more interesting I feel them to be. With all that natural talent, don’t Muhly and friends need to push themselves further now? It will be interesting to see what he produces for the National Youth Orchestra.

 

Christopher Gunning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 20, 2012 |

Strauss, Mahler and Brahms at the Barbican with Maltman, Ticciati and the LSO.

Richard Strauss, Mahler, Brahms: Christopher Maltman (baritone), London Symphony Orchestra, Robin Ticciati (conductor), Barbican Hall, 15.3.2012. (CG)

Richard Strauss Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) Op.24 (1889-90)
Mahler Kindertodtenlieder (1901-4)
Brahms  Symphony no 2 in D Major Op.73 (1877)

 
Three of this reviewer’s favourite works, London’s most frequently feted orchestra (the LSO), one of our star baritones (Christopher Maltman), and Robin Ticciati, at 27 a hot property of the conducting world; this concert certainly augured well.

Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration), his second major tone poem, can be a tricky piece to get right. Even though still only twenty-five, the composer’s handling of the orchestra was already virtuosic, but some have had doubts about the depth of the piece. Why was this young man, with a bright future ahead, writing about the struggle against death, giving into it, and finally achieving glory in the afterlife? Of course it’s a richly romantic notion, and Strauss was rapidly becoming a leader of the late Romantic movement.

The piece has a narrative that’s relatively easy to follow, but if you indulge too much it can seem discursive, the various sections insufficiently related. By and large Ticciati avoided any major pitfalls, and this was an intelligent reading. The quietly irregular throbbing string chords felt like approaching death at the beginning, and the explosion as the hero commenced his agonizing struggle was terrifying. The woodwind and violin solos were all sweetly fashioned in the more delicately nostalgic sections, the trombones were horribly menacing as death approaches, and the aspirational theme as the soul rises to immortality was perfectly judged, with beautifully balanced quiet chords at the end.

So – all well done and totally professional. Could one have wanted even more drama, commitment, and a greater sense of propulsion periodically? Perhaps.

Next it was Christopher Maltman’s turn to give a heart-rending account of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. When Mahler wrote these extraordinary and desperately sad songs he was a good deal older than Strauss in the previous work; one can speculate as to whether he was prophesying the death of his own child a few years later, or recalling the death of his brother many years previously; probably both. At any rate, Mahler was obsessed with death – a theme which was to permeate his work right to the end.

Maltman’s reading was quietly bitter, unforced and unsentimental. That is not to suggest there was no beauty of tone – we had that, alright, but it was never present for its own sake. I found it terribly moving, despite the performance being wrecked by the most dreadful racket for the first twenty seconds or so. Why don’t they remind people to turn off their phones and watch-alarms at the Barbican, as they do at the Festival hall?

Ticciati has won plaudits for his operatic conducting, and it’s not hard to see why. He was the most sensitive accompanist, carefully attentive to Maltman, and he drew some lovely contributions from the LSO’s wind players too. Christine Pendrill, Queen of the Cor Anglais, excelled just as she always does, and there were equally touching contributions from Gareth Davies, Guillaume Deshayes, and Chris Richards on the flute, oboe and clarinet. The balance between soloist and orchestra was exemplary and even in the stormy final song, Maltman rose above the orchestra to telling effect.

And so to Brahms and his glorious Second Symphony. I would so love to go into raptures about this, but I’m left feeling slightly “iffy.” Why? This is a fabulous orchestra; the ensemble playing is nearly always bang-on, intonation likewise, and each player is terrific in his or her own right. And let’s not get things out of perspective – this performance was not in any way bad, and my problem with it could probably be simply that things were not to my own taste. It happens!

The horns were rather too loud at the start, meaning that I didn’t get that haunting/mysterious feeling that I have often loved. The same applied to the passages leading to the second main theme in the violins, which also wasn’t quite sunny enough. Then Ticciati didn’t repeat the exposition, as marked by Brahms. The first movement continued in an ever-so-slightly “matter of fact” way, and there was no real sense of homecoming when we came to the recapitulation, or adventure during the extraordinary coda.

The second movement lacked weight, somehow, and the third wasn’t quite charming enough at the start or skittish enough later on. The last movement had momentum, but there were a few slightly scrappy moments, and I didn’t feel it ended with quite the right blaze of glory. And the timpani dominated the proceedings too often.

Nit picking? Maybe. Ticciati was aiming at a predominantly “classical” approach to this work, and in its pastoral beauty I happen to think it warrants a bit more than that.

Christopher Gunning

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Jukka-Pekka Saraste conducts Kurtág, Bartok, and Sibelius’s two last symphonies.

Bartok, Kurtág, and Sibelius: Hiromi Kikuchi (violin)Ken Hakii (viola), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jukka-Pekka Saraste (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 16.12.2011 (CG)

 

Bartok: Dance Suite (1923)

György Kurtág: Concertante Op.42 (2002 -3) UK premiere

Sibelius: Symphony No. 6 in D minor Op.104 (1923)

Sibelius: Symphony No. 7 in C major Op.105 (1924)

 

This was the third in the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s series featuring works by Sibelius including the seven symphonies; we had Symphony no. 3 back in October, and a selection of Sibelius’s songs and his incidental music for Belshazzar’s Feast last week. Of course the BBC programme planners would never do anything as obvious as playing Sibelius’s symphonies in the order he composed them, which seems more than a little perverse; how interesting and educational it is to witness the development of this infinitely fascinating symphonist from one to the next. A number of different conductors will be taking part; after the opening concert, it was difficult to imagine performances more sympathetic than Sakari Oramo’s of the 3rd, but tonight we had Jukka-Pekka Saraste, who is one of the triumvirate of dedicated Finnish Sibelians along with Osmo Vänskä and Esa-Pekka Salonen, all of whom studied in the same class in Helsinki and are now in their 50’s. Saraste was making a welcome return to the BBC Symphony, having been their Principal Guest Conductor from 2002-2005.

 

The first half was, for some reason, Hungarian. Bartok’s Dance Suite, interestingly composed at the same time as Sibelius’s 6th Symphony, is one of his most immediately attractive orchestral works, drawing on Hungarian, Romanian and North African folk music to great effect, with the various sections being connected by a returning theme in changing guises. The brilliance of Bartok’s colourful orchestration came over well in the BBC SO’s performance, and the constantly varying tempi, a vital ingredient, were all fluently handled. There was plenty of rhythmic zap as well as some beautifully idiomatic solos, and it was all highly enjoyable – just the thing on this cold December evening!

 

The two major successors to Bartok in Hungary are Ligeti and György Kurtág, whose Concertante was next on the agenda. Kurtág won the 2006 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition with this work, which has solo parts for the violin and viola with a very large orchestra. The soloists tonight have been playing the work around the world since the first performance in 2003 and have also recorded it. The programme note waffled about Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, and references to Wagner and Magyar music, but if I was supposed to recognise any of these, I’m afraid I failed miserably. In fact I found this work altogether perplexing; the soloists are not soloists in the conventional sense, and their contributions often seemed inconsequential or inaudible. The music is also extremely discontinuous; at worst it felt like a random series of sounds and gestures, which although frequently interesting in themselves, were largely disconnected. There are welcome periods of greater energy, and some violent outbursts too, but overall this doesn’t make for coherent, let alone pleasant, listening. You may say there’s absolutely nothing wrong in that in itself, of course, but there’s a point at which incomprehension gets the better of me and I must admit to being pretty relieved when it was all over. Awful to say this, when the soloists, conductor and orchestra have worked their socks off – but maybe I’ve spent too many hours trying hard to appreciate things I instinctively just don’t like at all. I certainly prefer my Kurtág in his more typically shorter, more concise mode, and I found myself asking yet again why the BBC favours so many contemporary composers from abroad rather than the host of home-grown composers desperate for an airing.

 

It was brave to place the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies of Sibelius next door to one another. These very different works could have benefitted from this, one might have thought, but in reality they did not. Why? Although each is short by major symphonic standards, each is complete in itself and benefits from a period of reflection afterwards. So we could wander off into the night with the magnificent 7th ringing in our ears, but the more delicate and less overtly dramatic 6th suffered. Technically, these were both assured, efficient performances; I wouldn’t argue with the tempi chosen for any part of the 6th, but somehow the music refused to spring into life in the way it can, and too much of it felt – well – efficient. Despite some fine work from the BBC symphony Orchestra, I found myself asking where was the poetry? And although there was plenty of rhythmic verve in the scherzo and the last movement, didn’t things feel somewhat briskly mechanical rather than genuinely spirited? And while I have come to love this symphony, I also recognise that it’s a special case, needing specially sensitive treatment and programming; placing it just before the interval would have worked better.

 

The 7th was far more successful. Saraste maintained a tight grip on the formal shape, managing all the difficult tempo changes brilliantly. There was a satisfying inevitability to the unfolding of the drama, the emotionally charged string passages near the beginning pulling us forward irrepressibly towards the first great trombone solo, expertly judged by Helen Vollam; the way she rose above the orchestra with no semblance of force was just perfect. And I marvelled all over again at the astonishingly inspired orchestration that Sibelius dreamed up here; just one lone trombone against the whole orchestra – and yet you hear it clearly and gloriously. The remaining sections flowed effortlessly; the stormy sections were genuinely thrilling, with the brass and horns glowing in the winter sunshine, and the woodwind sparkling like freshly fallen snowflakes. I could have wished for a greater sense of heartbreak in the final pages, but nevertheless, Saraste’s interpretation was absolutely justifiable and it was impossible to leave without this, one of the very greatest of all symphonies, having made its mark yet again. Marvellous.

 

Christopher Gunning

December 17, 2011 |

Two Views of Belshazzar’s Feast; Gerald Finley, Edward Gardner and the BBC symphony Orchestra charm and impress in Britten, Sibelius and Walton.

Britten, Sibelius, and Walton: Gerald Finely (baritone), BBC Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner (conductor), Barbican Hall,  London,  10.12.2011 (CG)

 

Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem, Op.20 (1940)

Sibelius: Kom nu hit, död, Op.60 no.1 (1909 orch. 1957; Pä veranden vi havet, Op.38 no. 2 (1902 orch. 1903); Koskenlaskijan morsiamet, Op.33 (1897)

Belshazzar’s Feast – Suite, Op.51 (1906-7)

Walton Belshazzar’s Feast (1929-31, revised 1931, 1948, and 1957)

 

Britten, Sibelius and Walton sharing the same concert? The BBC Symphony Orchestra is subject to some strange programme planning, but the works tonight made interesting bedfellows. The connection between Walton and Sibelius is not difficult to grasp: Walton was a great admirer of Sibelius, and in his First Symphony showed just how strongly the Finnish composer influenced him. But Belshazzar’s Feast shows Walton in an altogether different light, and its juxtaposition with Sibelius’s work of the same name showed just how different the thinking of the two composers could be. And Britten? A near contemporary of Walton, of course, but with his own unique musical language and thought processes.

 

His Sinfonia da Requiem is about the nearest Britten ever came to writing a purely orchestral symphony, and it certainly demonstrates that symphonic processes were very much part and parcel of his modus operandi. It is a fine work, immediately impressive, and with unfolding drama and an ingrained seriousness that displays Britten at his anguished anti-war best. Composed in 1940, much of this music hints at the War Requiem to come much later; thudding timpani, tortured melodies, snarling brass, whirling woodwind, and all the time a sense of Britten’s outrage. There are echoes of some other composers here – Mahler, and perhaps even Sibelius? Yet the 26 year old composer was remarkably mature for one so young, and already had a sure control of form. The three movements, Lacrymosa, Dies Irae, and Requiem Aeternam, form a continuous whole, and individually have firm structures which carry the listener along a troubled route for twenty minutes or so, with only the last movement hinting at a degree of reluctant resolution. The commissioners of the piece, the Japanese Government, were not yet at war with Britain or the US, but rejected the piece because of its Christian connotations; ironic, then, that it has emerged as one of the most substantial of Britten’s works and the several other pieces simultaneously commissioned by the Japanese. Edward Gardner and his forces were in total command; the tempi felt just right, and with the BBC SO continuing to be at the top of its game this made for a powerful, committed and memorable performance; its sounds are still haunting me now, almost twenty-four hours later.

 

Gerald Finley was the soloist in three virtually unknown songs by Sibelius, which turned out to be delightful gems from the unmistakable hand of the master. Come Away Death, a setting of Shakespeare translated into Swedish, has simple muted strings and is bleakness personified. On a Balcony beside the Sea, to a text by Viktor Rydberg, has dark woodwinds and is imbued with a sense of isolation and desperation. The Rapids-Rider’s Brides (poem by August Ahlqvist-Oksanen) is larger in scale than the preceding two and hints strongly at the Sibelius of the early symphonies with its greater expansiveness and menacing brass, the latter even reminding us of Karalia. Finley was absolutely terrific, his vocal beauty enhanced by clear enunciation of every word, and Gardner was the most sensitive accompanist; this was exquisite music making of almost chamber music intensity.

 

Gardner continued to impress as a Sibelian in the Finn’s Belshazzar’s Feast. This music, the very antithesis of the Walton to follow, falls into four separate sections. The first, Oriental Procession, is a grotesque march. The second, Solitude, is a tiny but sweet miniature. The third, Nocturne, gave Michael Cox an opportunity to display some ravishingly expressive flute playing, and the fourth, Khadra’s Dance, seductive and delicate, reminded us what a fine clarinetist Chris Richards is. Sibelius opted for a whimsical, quasi Oriental, view of Belshazzar – as befitted pieces composed as incidental music for the play for which they were intended. What a contrast, then, to Walton’s monumental and exuberant cantata composed in his late twenties.

 

The gentlemen of the BBC Chorus got things off to a fine start with their opening declamation, and the full chorus followed, gently weaving their lines with wonderfully rich sonorities, to be joined by Gerald Finley in his plaintive “If I forget thee.” Once again combining noticeably fine diction with perfect intonation and sense of character, he took command of the proceedings with his long recitative and then we were plunged into sheer brilliance, as orgiastic and celebratory as you could want, for the rest of the piece. And you would have to be a real nitpicker to find any faults; the BBC Symphony Chorus sang with gusto and accuracy, the orchestra shot through the whole work with massive amounts of verve, and the brass, augmented by two groups up in the gods, were constantly thrilling. Gardner kept the tempi brisk, propelling things forward mercilessly. And, if I have to nitpick, the only thing I can find to say is that I wish this had been in the Royal Albert Hall, and it’s not often I’d say that! The Barbican hall, admirable though it is for such a variety of music, is just not quite man enough for music on Walton’s scale. Never mind. It was still a great evening, on this occasion narrowly won by the concert opener. That Britten – it really is a superb piece.

Christopher Gunning

 

 

 

 

 

December 11, 2011 |

Bĕlohlávek and the BBCSO in an all Czech programme – Janáček steals the show.

Kadeřábek, Dvořák, Martinů, Janáček, Maxim Rysanov (solo viola), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiří Bĕlohlávek (conductor),
Barbican Hall, London, 10.11.2011 (CG)
Jiří Kadeřábek: ‘C,’ BBC commission: World premiere
Dvořák: The Golden Spinning Wheel, op.109 (1896)
Martinů:  Rhapsody Concerto (1952)
Janáček: Taras Bulba – rhapsody for orchestra (1915-18)
Are you sitting comfortably?

 

“Jiří Kadeřábek sees the listener of his music as being ‘inside a geometric shape of many sides, a polyhedron, with mirrors reflecting every small line and direction.'” So commences the ludicrously pretentious programme note. And it goes on, and on, likening his music to the Cubist Picasso – “It’s as if the Women of Avignon were singing from each strange facet of their bodies. I think that’s the point: the deconstruction of linear association and the emphasis of purely structural particles.”

In fact what we got was a piece of mind-numbing banality. “C” consists of twiddles and scales in C major, with a couple of sections of the brass players blowing air, but no notes, through their instruments. If the composer, the BBC, or anyone else imagines that there’s a useful point in this nonsense, then it’s certainly lost on me. You might argue that it’s not the fault of the commissioners that Kadeřábek turned in a piece of abject rubbish, but they might have guessed, and that they make errors of judgement like this when there are umpteen British composers dying to have the opportunity of having their music played by a fine symphony orchestra beggars belief. What a dreadful waste, a thought also going through the minds of the orchestra who looked bored out of their minds and failed to applaud the composer as he stepped onto the platform.

Moving swiftly on, the next item in this all-Czech programme was the tone poem The Golden Spinning Wheel, which was one of several works which marked Dvořák’s move from the purely symphonic forms of his great idol, Brahms, into the more ‘progressive’ area of Liszt, who had already established the revolutionary idea of the tone poem. This was a big and controversial departure for a man nearing the end of his life, and the five tone poems composed between 1896 and 1897 contain some of the composer’s most imaginative and colourful music. The Golden Spinning Wheel is one of four based on the ballads of the Czech folklorist Karel Erben and contains elements of Bohemian folk music woven into a richly lyrical symphonic tapestry. There was some really lovely woodwind playing from the orchestra; Michael Cox’s flute was especially poignant, with Bĕlohlávek clearly revelling in every moment of it and bringing poise, charm, warmth and humanity to musicians and audience all too ready to involve themselves in some real music after the opening dud. What a shame, then, that the conductor had savagely cut the music; why? Important elements of the story were lost, and although this rarely heard piece may be quite an effort for an audience unfamiliar with it, a few extra minutes certainly wouldn’t have hurt.

Martinu followed the interval in the shape of the seldom-performed Rhapsody Concerto, with Maxim Rysanov the full-toned soloist. Composed in America in 1952, the work harks back to Martinu’s homeland, with some of the melodic material reminding us strongly of Bohemian folk music and Dvořák. It is a predominantly sweetly lyrical work, relatively uncomplicated harmonically, and a far cry from Martinu’s famous Double Concerto for Two String orchestras Piano and Timpani, and other more dissonant works from the 30s; back then Martinu was flirting with expressionism, neo-classicism, and jazz, but by now the composer was in his sixties, weary and seriously homesick. If melody is to the fore, it does not mean that the music is dull rhythmically, especially in the last movement. Here Rysanov’s technique came to the fore with some extremely impressive finger and bow-work, and the BBC SO responded with equally impressive vigour.

But the highlight was still to come. With Taras Bulba, we were on a different planet. The bloodthirsty tale on which it is based tells of the Ukrainian warrior, Taras Bulba, and the attacks of the Poles. Remarkable, isn’t it, that at the time Janáček was a committed fan of everything Russian, believing that his own country would be protected and freed by the indominatable Russians. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Janáček ‘s political views, he certainly composed one of his most vivid masterpieces with Taras Bulba, and this extraordinary music was given a stupendous performance tonight. Janáček ‘s orchestration is so intensely personal, and so raw and ruggedly expressive – there’s absolutely nothing ordinary about it. There was especially gorgeous playing from Alison Teale (Cor Anglais), Richard Simpson (oboe) and Stephen Bryant (solo violin.) and the brass and percussion playing was as bright and incisive as you could possibly want. A fabulous performance of fabulous music.

If it hadn’t been for that awful first item, this would have been a completely enjoyable and even inspiring evening. What a shame, then, that the BBCSO’s Barbican concerts seem to be comparatively badly attended. The stalls were more or less full, but the balcony not even open. Why? The LSO consistently fills the same hall. Is it the often somewhat strange programme planning? Inadequate publicity? I search for answers. The BBCSO is a terrific orchestra and deserves to have the very strongest following, especially in the face of current budget reviews.

Christopher Gunning

November 12, 2011 |