United Kingdom Hosokawa, Ravel and Mahler: Simon Trpčeski (piano), Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano), London Symphony Orchestra, Robin Ticciati (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 25.1.2015 (AS)
Toshio Hosakawa – Blossoming II
Maurice Ravel – Piano Concerto in G major
Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.4 in G major
This was the third performance of the same programme by the same artists; the first and second had taken place a few days earlier in Vienna and then Linz.
Toshio Hosakawa’s Blossoming II is described by the composer as a chamber orchestra version of a work originally written for string quartet, with some additions and embellishments. The original inspiration for the piece came from a written Buddhist description of the way in which a lotus blossom comes into flower, but it also reflects the composer’s concerns at the way Japan quickly accepted western civilisation – a superficial blossoming, Hosakawa rather tartly suggests, instead of gradual absorption into his country’s native culture. Blossoming II therefore looks back to traditional Japanese musical roots.
The chamber orchestral version of the piece, which last something under 15 minutes, was commissioned by the Edinburgh International Festival and first performed in 2011 by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Robin Ticciati. It was however a near full-sized LSO that gathered on the Barbican stage for this performance under the same conductor. The work starts with a single sustained note in the middle register played on several instruments, and gradually evolves into a series of ingenious aural impressions, many of them featuring the string section. Apart from the representation of growth there is no apparent structure in Blossoming II, and, in common with many contemporary orchestral works, it falls into the category of being ‘interesting’ to hear on just one occasion, rather than inspiring a wish to hear further performances.
After the slow basic pulse of Hosakawa’s music, the whip-crack that begins Ravel’s G major concerto took us into a vastly different world. Simon Trpčeski and the orchestra played up the jazzy elements of opening movement with a good deal of flair, but in the more reflective, slower passages the soloist rather leaned back too far in bringing out their expressive nature. This somewhat mannered, self-conscious playing was effective enough for just a single hearing, but one would not wish to experience it too frequently. The slow movement, with its long and rather artificial melody, did however benefit from Trpčeski’s very considered approach. In the finale pianist and conductor chose a pretty hectic tempo, which was exciting enough, but didn’t give either the soloist or orchestral members time to play their notes clearly enough. The poor bassoon player, in particular, was pressed very hard.
It was perhaps a rather short half, so Trpčeski, who is always willing to give encores after concerto performances, gave us two. The first was ‘Hommage à Edith Piaf’, the fifteenth of Poulenc’s 15 Improvisations; in the second the pianist started to play a few notes, and then, to everybody’s surprise, the leader of the orchestra, Roman Simovic, stood up and joined the pianist in the last section of Ravel’s Tzigane, which he played with stunning virtuosity. It was generous of Trpčeski to cede the limelight to his orchestral colleague at this point.
These days aspiring younger conductors have to make their mark in Mahler symphonies, and here was Ticciati in the Fourth. His approach to the first movement was very elegant, very expressive in an especially light-hearted fashion. There were some very marked changes of pulse, but they all sounded, just this once, to be entirely suitable and natural, such was Ticciati’s skill in projecting Mahler’s vision. The second movement scherzo had a waltz-like quality, and the two trios were both taken slowly and both shaped very eloquently. In the third movement Ticciati obtained some lovely playing from the strings in particular, but after a while his slow basic tempo seemed to make for a rather drawn-out experience, so that Karen Cargill’s attractive delivery of the Knaben Wunderhorn song in the finale came as something of a welcome relief.
It was a slightly unusual reading from Ticciati, but it was mostly very well considered and attractive. The LSO’s playing was superlative in every way, throughout the concert.