United Kingdom Dvořák, Xiaogang Ye and Mussorgsky: Cho-Liang Lin (violin), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/José Serebrier (conductor), Cadogan Hall, London, 12.6.2015 (AS)
Dvořák: Slavonic Dances – Op. 46 Nos. 1 and 3; Op. 72 Nos. 2 and 7
Xiaogang Ye: The Last Paradise. Op. 24 (UK première)
Mussorgsky (orch. Ravel): Pictures at an Exhibition
Xiaogang Ye (b. 1955) studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in China and completed his studies at the Eastman School in the USA. In 1994 he returned to China and has been based in Beijing for the last 20 years. He was brought up during China’s Cultural Revolution in very harsh conditions, at a time when existence was so hard that death was celebrated as “an escape from a painful life and the start of a new journey”.
The Last Paradise takes the form of a single-movement work for violin and orchestra in which the soloist charts an individual’s life experience, his funeral and release into the afterlife, while the orchestra depicts his environment and the changing conditions he experiences. The traditional concerto interplay between soloist and orchestra thus comes into being. The work is written in a mixture of contemporary western music styles and traditional Chinese music, but the two are joined with a great deal of imagination and ingenuity. The solo part is clearly very difficult to play, and was delivered with great aplomb by the highly experienced Cho-Liang Lin. The unaccompanied violin solo passage that begins the work, with indeterminate pitch sliding in the style of a traditional Erhu Chinese fiddle, doesn’t promise great things to come, but as the work and the struggle of violin against orchestra develops, so does the drama and emotional impact of the music. Not always does a new composition inspire a wish to hear it again, but that was certainly the case on this occasion. Serebrier and the RPO delivered what seemed to be a precise, clear account of the somewhat complex orchestral part.
To begin the programme the conductor and orchestra had offered four of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, which were played with style and panache: the performers really looked as if they were enjoying themselves in this music’s charming melodies and bouncy rhythms.
After the interval Serebrier directed a direct, strongly characterised account of Ravel’s masterly orchestration of Mussorgsky’s work for piano. There were no interpretative indulgencies: the music was allowed its natural, powerful expression through the power and discipline of the orchestral playing.
The concert’s playing time was perhaps a little on the short side, so Serebrier and the RPO strings played the Air from Bach’s Third Suite as an encore. Cadogan Hall’s stage does not have space for a large complement of strings, but how good it was to hear this lovely piece played with such warmth and expression by 45 players. Have we not lost something nowadays in always having to hear Bach played by small ensembles of original instruments?