Thea Musgrave is Honoured During Richard Farnes’ Notable Proms Debut

08/08/2018

BBC PROM 33Musgrave and Brahms: Golda Schultz (soprano), Johan Reuter (baritone), BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra / Richard Farnes (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, London, 7.8.2018. (AS)

Golda Schultz (soprano) with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus conducted by Richard Farnes (c) BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Golda Schultz (soprano), BBC SO & Richard Farnes (conductor) (c) BBC/Chris Christodoulou

MusgravePhoenix Rising
BrahmsEin Deutsches Requiem, Op.45

Having sat through and reviewed two fairly dire contemporary pieces this Proms season, it was a pleasure for me to hear Thea Musgrave’s almost contemporary work Phoenix Rising (it was written in 1997 and first performed by Sir Andrew Davis and the BBCSO at the Royal Festival Hall in February 1998). Inspired by a sign featuring the legendary Phoenix bird outside a coffee shop in Virginia, the score falls into six continuously played sections that depict the dramatic phases in the reincarnation of the mythical bird from the ashes of its previous self. The music is pungently expressive in varied moods that move from depicting initial chaos and despair, then the triumph of rebirth and the eventual achievement of a state of serenity. The quality of musical invention is unflaggingly imaginative and Musgrave’s handling of the orchestral forces is masterly. For once in a newish work, the percussion section is not blatantly used but very judiciously adds piquant colour to the already luminous textures. And there is a touch of humour when at a certain point the timpanist gives up a struggle to dominate opposing brass forces and storms off the platform.

In a way Musgrave makes no concessions to her audience, since some of the music is pretty tough and unyielding, but somehow she manages still to make it attractive and easily assimilable. If only some of her younger colleagues possessed similar skills. Richard Farnes presided calmly and efficiently over his sometimes turbulent forces. The composer, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, was present in the audience and stood to acknowledge what was clearly genuinely warm and appreciative applause.

It came as something of a surprise to learn that the first Prom performance of Brahms’s German Requiem was given under Sir Malcolm Sargent as recently as 1965. Some of us who love Brahms’s music can find this work to be less than appealing in the wrong hands: it is easily possible to make it sound grey and dour. But not on this occasion, since Richard Farnes was very alive to the need to avoid muddy textures and turgid rhythms. In fact, his direction was exemplary. He responded acutely and unerringly to the music’s changing moods; his management of its natural ebb and flow was very skilled and he controlled his choral and orchestral forces immaculately through a clear, communicative but totally unfussy conducting technique.

The constitution of the BBC Symphony Chorus is unbalanced. A tenor section of 18 voices cannot compete with 48 sopranos. Moreover, there were times, especially in the opening chorus, when some of the sopranos were reaching for high notes and not quite getting there. As a whole, however, the chorus sang with good discipline and skill. Johan Reuter’s two solo contributions were adequate in expression rather than inspired, and his voice (heard live at least, but probably not in the BBC Radio 3 transmission) rather lacked sufficient power. In her one brief contribution, however, Golda Schultz’s fine voice floated beautifully and eloquently into the vast auditorium.

The hero of the evening was undoubtedly Richard Farnes, making a notable Prom debut. I hope he will experience many happy returns!

Alan Sanders

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Snape Proms 2018 from 1 August __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Chamber Music Festival October 2018 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Harrogate International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera North’s Kiss Me, Kate Comes to the London Coliseum and Edinburgh __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2018 Season Begins Soon __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018/19 Birmingham Classical Season __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! The Roman River Music Festival Returns This September __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Appreciation Talks this Autumn from Helen Astrid __________________________________
  • NEW! Jonas Kaufmann: Under the Stars in Cinemas on 30 August __________________________________
  • NEW! TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER SALLON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST GEORGE HARLIONO IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Major Work by Stanford to be Premiered – 99 Years Late! __________________________________
  • NEW! Saffron Opera Group Presents Parsifal in Saffron Walden on 16 September __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR ALEXANDER SLADKOVSKY IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! How Our Grandparents Decided How We Should Listen to Music __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! MARKUS POSCHNER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli at Cadogan Hall, Releases New Live Album and Teams Up with The Invictus Games Choir __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month