Witchery, Spirituality and Mediterranean Travelogues from the BBC Philharmonic

23/11/2017

Lyadov, Gubaidulina, Ravel, Ibert: Lawrence Power (viola) / Ludovic Morlot (conductor), BBC Philharmonic. BBC Philharmonic Studio, MediaCityUK, Salford Quays. 22.11.2017. (RBa)

Anatoly Konstantinovich LyadovKikimora, Op.63

Sofia Gubaidulina – Viola Concerto

Maurice RavelRapsodie espagnole

Jacques IbertEscales

Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931) was the subject of the BBC Phil’s attention in April this year when they played her Offertorium in Manchester with Vadim Gluzman. Now they pay their brilliant respects again with the Viola Concerto. The violist was Lawrence Power — a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist — who in September last year played the York Bowen concerto at Salford Quays. To complete the circle, the conductor for that September concert was none other than Michael Seal, whose Bantock sympathies the BBCPO will delve into again on 28 November with Fifine at the Fair and The Witch of Atlas. The Phil once more prove an exemplar to the ‘industry’ when it comes to making a break from conventional programming and arriving at canny artistic choices of repertoire and musicians.

Before the Gubaidulina we heard Kikimora, one of Lyadov’s little flock of miniature tone poems. Its icy splendour and supernatural subject matter would have made it a natural companion to Lyadov’s other piece of legendary witchery, Baba-Yaga. These works seem doomed to the domain of the CD, so it is good to that the Salford Quays studio sees at least one of their number liberated. The music proceeds in a mysterious cavalcade of shivers, skips, snarls and seductive lyricism. Lovingly meticulous attention to telling details was in evidence throughout but one stood out among many: celesta and woodwind played and ringing out ‘on the nose’ created an enchanted humming glow in which one instrument loses itself in the sound of the other.

After late-Russian nationalism, with echoes of Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov, came a much more avant-garde work. Gubaidulina’s testing Viola Concerto was played with total commitment not least by the brilliant Lawrence Power who is called on almost continuously. His total commitment to Gubaidulina’s world seemed never in doubt. Make no mistake, this is as much a work of virtuoso mastery as Offertorium which dates from ten years earlier. It too plays for about 33 minutes and proceeds without obviously separate movements. The composer’s mystical spirituality is expressed in a hesitantly proceeding mosaic of steps separated, or enigmatically joined, by silences. The progress suggests a supplicant moving forward on bended knees. The orchestra is a typically large one — with a big percussion section — but used with utmost delicacy. I do not recall a single tutti. Mournful Wagner tubas doubled French horns. Unusually, the tuba sat with the horns rather than next to the trombones. At about the twenty minute mark, the orchestral part begins to proceed in longer articulated lines. For quite a few pages a Tapiola-like gale gusts back and forth across the string benches. The score — which Morlot conducted without baton — ends in grave abnegation.

The concert concluded with two opulent travelogues: one familiar, one less so. The Valencia finale of Ibert’s Escales, a work not commonly heard in concert, was frankly modelled in part on the Feria of Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole. Morlot, who resumed using the baton for both, directed performances full of the local colours with which these two pieces are suffused. The Ravel’s fine broderie was a joy to hear. Quite apart from the all-conquering excitement of the Feria, its episode for solo strings suggesting sleepily drooping eyelids registered in delight. It was good to hear Ibert’s three pictures of Mediterranean ports after years of getting to know the piece from the Munch and Martinon recordings. Ibert’s textures are more densely populated than Ravel’s but this remains a very attractive and atmospheric piece. It can be counted in the company of Holst’s Beni Mora (listen to Tunis-Nefta) and Chabrier’s España to which Ibert pays tribute in the finale.

Rob Barnett

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