Bantock, Beamish and Sibelius from the BBC Philharmonic in Salford

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bantock, Beamish, Sibelius: Martin Roscoe (piano), BBC Philharmonic / Rory Macdonald (conductor). BBC Philharmonic Studio, MediaCityUK, Salford Quays, 27.3.2019. (RBa)

Bantock – The Sea Reivers (1917)

Beamish – Piano Concerto No.2 ‘Cauldron of the Speckled Seas’ (2016)

Sibelius – Symphony No.7 in C major (1924)

The Manchester and its ‘catchment’ are handsomely served by the BBC Philharmonic. Their industrious and provocative season has its principal centre at MediaCity at Salford, although its commitments at the Bridgewater Hall complement those of the Hallé.

This early afternoon concert, without intermission, was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. It was, as usual, fully and appreciatively attended. The programme mixed music from early 20th century and recent 21st century. The first and last items were linked by their two composers’ mutual affinity. Sibelius dedicated his Third Symphony to Bantock who was a staunch supporter of Sibelius’s works, including them in his concert programmes. Bantock’s music has been a strong presence in previous concerts by the BBC Phil, often with Michael Seal. I hope this will continue with today’s conductor and others.

Bantock’s Sea Reivers (pirates who haunted the Hebridean seas) began life as a movement for his Hebridean Symphony but when shorn from the score it sprang into life as a concert launcher. ‘Spring’ is an apt word: this blustery scherzo is a thing of crashing muscularity and lusty velocity. These qualities were well and truly turbo-injected by Rory Macdonald who gave no quarter. He brought out the fleeting parallels between this piece and Chasseur Maudit and Francesca da Rimini. Two asides: Bantock recorded the piece for the Paxton company in 1945; and it is grouped with a Hebridean companion piece called Caristiona.

 We remain on the Hebridean oceans for a work premiered on 10 December 2016 at the City Halls, Glasgow. The performers on that occasion were Martin Roscoe, the BBC Scottish SO (who commissioned it) and Thomas Dausgaard. This contemporary work has a very different ‘blas’ – as the Gaelic Hebrideans might say – from the Bantock. Sally Beamish’s Piano Concerto No.2 ‘Cauldron of the Speckled Seas’ has a brilliant and imaginative character. It is in a single movement with three sections. Roscoe was again the pianist, but a different orchestra and conductor now showed the work’s resilience and capacity to travel.

The work begins and ends in quiet and concentration, with substantial stretches of tempestuous triple forte. There are also wisps of themes, misty tendrils of sound and traceries of poetic suggestion. These are all drawn from a large orchestra used, for the most part, in a pointillist way. This aspect touches on the whispered style used by Allan Pettersson and the intoxicated complexity of Silvestrov (whose Fifth Symphony the BBCPO played recently) and Sorabji. There is a very large percussion contingent which includes what I take to be the recorded ‘hush-shush’ of sea-surged shingle. Tippett does something similar at the start and close of his Fourth Symphony but the effect is nowhere near as effective as Beamish does it here. It is sparingly used.

The title of the Piano Concerto refers to an English translation of Corryvreckan – the large marine whirlpool on the North-West coast of Scotland. The music is unafraid of dissonance but not extreme. Other voices come into focus from time to time, including Ireland in his Sarnia, and Bax in his Symphonic Variations and Winter Legends. It is a fine work, and I have not adequately conveyed that it is an original construct using invigorating ideas.

Martin Roscoe is much more than equal to Beamish’s challenges: the vertiginous collisions and torrents, and the confiding sentences. I would also praise the small but challenging part for solo harp and for leader Yuri Torchinsky. His Assistant, Midori Sugiyama, played her crucial poetic part seated separately and distant from the orchestra. Her playing lent the closing section a heart-stilling perspective. I would like to hear the piece again. It was appreciatively received.

The concert ended with Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony in a performance that has the work’s epic measure but also its adrenalin flowing intact. No trace here of Paul Van Kempen’s impatient  delivery. The orchestra ‘spoke’ with fullness of tone and impact. Those crowning brassy climaxes do not underplay the sovereign dominance of horns and trombones, and the trumpets are subdued. Otherwise I should just note that Macdonald deployed the strings with first and second violins to the left-hand side of the stage, and then cellos left of centre and violas on the right.

Rob Barnett

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