tue 04/08/2020

Radio 3 In Concert, BBC Sounds - a wonderful week of music | reviews, news & interviews

Radio 3 In Concert, BBC Sounds - a wonderful week of music

Radio 3 In Concert, BBC Sounds - a wonderful week of music

Radio 3’s evening concert strand offers a rich vein of the familiar and unfamiliar

Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, who featured in Wednesday night's concert Marco Borggreve

The absence of live concerts is not just affecting the "in the flesh" audiences, but also having a knock-on effect for the Radio 3 audience, used to hearing a live or as-live concert every night of the week. The BBC have instead gone to the archive of recentish concerts to keep the In Concert strand alive, and last week’s schedule (20-24 April) presented an array of appetising concerts showing the best kind of enterprising programming. Familiar music alongside the unfamiliar, a range of orchestras in a range of venues, and for me a delightful voyage of discovery and re-discovery.

I don’t have the space for an in-depth review of all the broadcasts, but they are all worth hearing, not just for the concert items but also for the interval fillers, and the music by contemporary British composers after the concert proper forming part of the BBC-wide “culture in quarantine” thread. So as well as mainstream favourites from Wagner, Beethoven, Dvořák and Stravinsky, there were novelties such as Gordon Jacobs’s entertaining trombone concerto and Charlotte Bray’s sparky violin concerto Caught in Treetops. I particularly liked Howard Goodall’s Beatitude V for choir and strings, with its beautifully restrained medieval sensibility, and Thea Musgrave’s bracing a cappella Rorate Coeli, full of textural invention.

Monday’s concert was the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Antonio Pappano, recorded in Switzerland in 2019. The highlight for me was Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto, not a piece I knew, but which grabbed me with its watery dreaminess and delicious orchestration. Violinist Janine Jansen was terrific in the concerto and again in a hauntingly beautiful encore by Lili Boulanger, whose early death must be seen as one of the great tragedies of 20th century music. Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances were lustily played, and the kind of feel-good music many people will welcome at this time.

British composer Malcolm ArnoldTuesday pitted Malcolm Arnold (pictured left) against his near contemporary and kindred spirit Dmitri Shostakovich. Arnold was represented by his glittering ballet score Homage to the Queen, written for the coronation in 1953, the colourful dances fully characterised by Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra. Shostakovich’s ballet suite from The Golden Age misses out some of the best bits of the full score but I enjoyed the young British pianist in his second piano concerto, a piece I can’t help loving, although some find it bordering on kitsch. Arnold’s second symphony is his most widely performed and sounds enormous fun to play, with solo spots for everyone from timpanist to tubist. The Mahlerian echoes are fascinating, juxtaposed with Arnold’s broad filmic melodies.

Wednesday saw some grittier fare. The LPO and Vladimir Jurowski presented Shostakovich’s fifteenth symphony, preceded by the Berg Violin Concerto and the second symphony of Shostakovich’s student Edison Denisov. This latter piece is a glowering, intense work, written in the last year of the composer’s life and indicating a vibrant creativity to the end. To my ears the Berg concerto generally comes over better in recording than live, where balance is a significant challenge. I enjoyed Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s reading, more classically restrained than some although I’m curious to know how it sounded in the hall. Shostakovich’s last symphony is much more skittish in the face of impending death than Denisov’s. It abounds in quotations – whose meaning is opaque – and transparent scoring born of Shostakovich’s physical incapacity, and there are excellent solos for trombone, tuba and vibraphone, among others.

Thursday’s concert also dated from 2017, from the series that signalled the triumphant start of Simon Rattle’s reign at the LSO. Given a five-star review by my colleague David Nice, I can only concur: the performances are exemplary, by turns fiery and reflective, and always technically impeccable. No broadcast can do justice to the violent assault of The Rite of Spring heard live, but the details of the scoring of Petrushka and The Firebird came over in abundance and I loved all three performances.The Elias QuartetFriday was a change of pace in several respects: a string quartet rather than an orchestra, a recent concert (from late 2019) rather than one from the vaults, with a taste of the classical period and a living British composer. The Elias Quartet (pictured above) are a class act, playing together since 1998 when they were students, and this performance from Kings Place’s Venus Unwrapped series had a pleasing shape, sandwiching the Sally Beamish quartet “Reed Stanzas” between two of Beethoven’s. The Beamish was written for the Elias, building on the fact that the quartet’s second violinist is also a Scottish folk fiddler, and the music combines this tradition with a contemporary classical idiom. The sound was much more fragile and improvisatory here than in the more muscular Beethoven, with the contrapuntal lines given lots of space. The “Rasumovsky” quartet that finished also had a playfulness and strong sense of direction.

If I were to recommend one concert above the others it might be Tuesday’s Arnold and Shostakovich, for its interesting corners and contrasts. And if it was one piece I would go for the alluring Szymanowski concerto, brilliantly played. I would also offer three loud cheers for Radio 3 offering such riches as these concerts to sustain music-lovers and the musically curious in these strange days. Let’s cherish it while we still have it.

@bernardlhughes

The highlight was Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto, which grabbed me with its watery dreaminess and delicious orchestration

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