United Kingdom Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival 2 – Boden, Puw, Vasks: Madeleine Mitchell (violin), BBC National Orchestra of Wales cond. Edwin Outwater, Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, 12.5.2016. (PCG)
Mark David Boden – Gwyll (world première)
Guto Puw – Violin Concerto (Cardiff première)
Pēteris Vasks – Sala (UK première)
This afternoon concert was equally well attended like the opening one I reported on. I have seen the Hoddinott Hall less full for more conventional programmes – and all three works given various premières here were highly rewarding to listeners. With the warm early summer sunshine outside, there seemed to be a curiously Delian element to the afternoon which was immediately apparent in Mark David Boden’s Ghyll (the title being Cumbrian rather than Cambrian), a tone-poem of nature par excellence very much in the mood not only of Delius but also Vaughan Williams, Sibelius in En saga and even Bernard Herrmann’s film score for Journey to the centre of the earth. After a slow introduction which could have been more inwardly delivered by the orchestra (individual lines were perhaps rather too prominent for the atmospheric textures) the eruptions of more lively material which interrupted the onward flow of the music seemed to reflect Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt with his pithy observation “Summer storms are short.” The whole work was unified by what the composer described in his programme note as a “slow lyrical theme” and this had an instantly recognisable profile which could be recognised on each of its reappearances. This was a very beautiful piece which one would like to hear again.
Guto Puw’s violin concerto similarly found slow material framing more energetic sections, and the sense of atmospheric stillness which was missed at the opening of Ghyll was amply supplied by the inward playing of Madeleine Mitchell at the beginning of the second movement. The concerto, as so often with this composer’s music, reflected literary sources – in this case the scene in Shakespeare’s The merchant of Venice which also inspired Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music, with the second movement directly quoting the lines “soft stillness and the night become the touches of sweet harmony”. The faster material in the first movement again brought echoes of Delius, most noticeably the music that the older composer wrote for the haunting scene in Flecker’s Hassan where the ghosts in the garden are driven back into their graves by the wind rising through the trees. Rather oddly the composer observed in his programme note that the concerto “in its present form” comprised two movements, with the implication that maybe there might be a finale yet to come; but the work is already a very substantial whole (getting on for half an hour) and it is hard to imagine what could follow the extended and very effective dying fall at the end of the slow second meditation. The piece was superbly played by all concerned.
Also excellently played was Sala by Pēteris Vasks – indeed the composer himself described the performance to me as the best he had heard – and here again we heard thematic material of real strength and profile. The work itself, a slow set of evolving contemplations of the initial material, passed from section to section of the orchestra seamlessly, rather in the manner of the Lento by Howard Skempton which created such an impact at the Proms twenty-five years ago but which seems to have fallen into relative and undeserved obscurity since. Like Skempton’s work, the onward progress of the music might seem over-extended as grand climaxes are successively followed by returns to moments of quieter contemplation; but one would not wish the music to be a moment shorter, and at 22 minutes it held the audience spellbound. All three composers were present in the hall to receive the deserved ovations of listeners and performers.
Paul Corfield Godfrey