Bournemouth SO gives World Premiere of Turnage’s Testament

09/11/2018

Glière, Turnage, Prokofiev: Natalya Romaniw (soprano), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Kirill Karabits (conductor), Lighthouse, Poole, 7.11.2018. (IL)

Mark Anthony Turnage, Natalya Romaniw & Kirill Karabits (l to r)

Glière – Sirènes
Turnage Testament (world premiere)
Prokofiev – War and Peace Symphonic Suite

Turnage’s new work, Testament, had its world premiere at this Lighthouse concert. Testament is dedicated to Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO). It was commissioned by the BSO and the Staatskapelle Weimar. Through discussions between composer and conductor, it was decided that the work should be related to Karabits’s homeland, the Ukraine. Commenting on his composition, Turnage has said: ‘I decided to write a score focused on themes of displacement, conflict and the particular political history of Ukraine which has often suffered oppression under the Russians…’ The work, cast in five movements, comprises settings of poems by three Ukrainian poets, beginning with Shevchenko’s Testament. Several Ukrainian folk songs underpin the work. Testament is scored for soprano soloist (singing the words in English) with an orchestra of triple wind, standard brass, timpani and extensive percussion, harp, piano doubling celesta, and strings.

The concert’s overall attendance was concentrated, attended mainly by the BSO’s core of dedicated subscribers, one guesses. However, the new work drew a very favourable response. Numerous people spoke to this reviewer with spontaneous enthusiasm which bodes well for the future of the work. This premiere was relatively low key. No recording, no broadcast. The composer was in attendance.

‘Testament’, the opening movement, is most impressive. The music, marked ‘Bell-like’ by the composer, is exactly that. It is mightily impressive – highly colourful thanks to the striking harmonies and orchestration. ‘Weep, sky, weep’, the second movement, is a poignant lament, ‘Summon the lion’, the third movement, springs forth defiantly and ends explosively. An interlude for the orchestra alone is an exquisite introspective piece. Finally, ‘Take What Matters’ deals with the present tensions in the Ukraine. The dedicatees, the BSO, gave a totally committed and fervent performance. Soprano Natalya Romaniw, sang with grace and conviction, colouring her voice according to the sentiments of each movement.

My own impression of Testament is positive, especially of the opening movement. I have to express personal reservations, though, for the final ‘Take What Matters’ movement. I felt that, although sympathetic to its intent and theme, it was, perhaps, a tad over-stated.

The concert stage had been set out for this concert from the start in a rather unusual format. The timpani were placed on the basic floor platform, to the right of the podium, alongside the double bases. The remainder of the percussion was positioned as usual on the platform above.

The concert opened with Glière’s Les Sirènes. His masterly orchestration skills served startlingly realistic evocations of the wave-swept sea bringing the hapless ship and its doomed crew (proud, horns with their bells aloft at one point before the sailors’ demise) towards the rocks and the fatal sensual allure of the sirens. Dramatically stirring and erotic stuff. Great fun.

The main work after the interval was the Symphonic Suite from Prokofiev’s opera, War and Peace, composed during and just after World War II and under the strict communist artistic strictures of the time. The suite was devised by the late Christopher Palmer who is best remembered for his work promoting English Music and Film Music. The Suite consists of Overture, ‘The Ball’, ‘Fanfare and Polonaise’, Waltz, Mazurka, ‘Intermezzo-May Night’, Finale, ‘Snowstorm’, ‘Battle’, and ‘Victory’. These movement titles are self-explanatory and cover moods and events of Tolstoy’s epic story succinctly enough. Much of the music consists of that for the dances in the famous ball scene. The ‘Intermezzo-May Night’ is beautifully, passionately romantic but tinged with restraint and a sense of impending catastrophe. This music was played by more than one lady in the orchestra’s strings – especially the second violin’s with exceptional feeling. The ‘Battle’ music and ‘Victory’ music were inspirational and again performed with the utmost zeal.

Truly, a night to remember – a most rewarding concert with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on top form. Bravo!

Ian Lace

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