Sinaisky and the BBC Phil look East from Manchester

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Rimsky-Korsakov, Szymanowski, Myaskovsky: Liza Ferschtman, violin, BBC Philharmonic, CBSO Chorus / Vassily Sinaisky (conductor). Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 1.2.2020. (RBa)

Liza Ferschtman (c) Marco Borggreve

Rimsky-KorsakovThe Golden Cockerel, extracts
Szymanowski – Violin Concerto No.2
Myaskovsky – Symphony No.6

The Eastern complexion of this concert managed to side-step the ‘usual suspects’. As a programme it had conductor Vassily Sinaisky all over it. That said, it was the kind of mix that was in days of yore the domain of the still-missed Edward Downes and Norman Del Mar. It also involved a not entirely expected degree of reciprocation between Manchester and Birmingham. A couple of years ago the BBC Phil were in Birmingham Symphony Hall with the CBSO Chorus for Roussel’s Evocations.

What was billed as Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘The Golden Cockerel extracts’ turned out to be two short bon-bons from the composer’s last opera, a work with feet planted in satire and fairy-tale. The Introduction to Act I shivers with agreeable supernatural tension. It has no demonstrative aspect and, if anything, is an example of impressionism or a foreshadowing of the ‘gardens’ conjured by Ravel and early Stravinsky. The principals of the BBC Phil, including delicate celesta, had their opportunities to shine, and did so. The shrill trumpet voiced the murderous cockerel amid dazzling high voltage colours. The Wedding Procession had circus grandeur about it and a hint of Prokofiev’s Kijé – a work lying a couple of decades in the future.

Szymanowski is not quite the rare commodity he used to be, although the Second Violin Concerto – a late work – is not heard that often. No allowances needed to be made for Liza Ferschtman. She stood in for the indisposed Tasmin Little who has recorded the two concertos for Chandos. Ferschtman’s violin sang through the complex iridescent web of orchestral sound. Sinaisky balanced the orchestra’s lyric, complex, motile kaleidoscope so that the soloistic thread was not lost. Only once, and that was at the first brief fortissimo peak, was Ferschtman’s violin overwhelmed and she could be seen playing but the solo instrument was not heard. The central unaccompanied cadenza was most musically handled where complexity and poetry are not at odds. An excellent case was made for a highly perfumed and convoluted music, with folksy insurgencies from the glorious ballet Harnasie, work that has in general stood on the second step below the First Violin Concerto. Ferschtman was enthusiastically greeted, and she gently rewarded the hall with an encore in the shape of the Aurora movement from Ysaÿe Fifth Sonata: poetry rather than overt spectacle.

Works by Myaskovsky are rare visitors to the UK’s concert halls. His hour-long Sixth Symphony (one of 27) dates from the early 1920s, and made the second part of the concert. There is some BBC Phil/Myaskovsky history here. The composer’s heroic but shorter Fifth Symphony was premiered in 1920 and recorded by the orchestra in 1994 by Downes (on Marco Polo). The completed Sixth had its first airing in 1924 conducted by Nikolai Golovanov. Should you be minded to explore, there have been recordings by Dudarova (Olympia), Järvi (DG), Stankovsky (Marco Polo), Svetlanov (most recently Alto), Kondrashin (Melodiya) and Liss (Warner)). Most of these BBC Phil/Bridgewater Hall concert are recorded for broadcast, so it is worth keeping a watch of the BBC Radio 3 schedules.

The first movement of the Sixth is driven by the furies, and it dashes in as if the listener has unceremoniously flung open a sound-proof door to reveal a violent turbulent whirlpool – the equivalent of Francesca da Rimini’s circles of hell. After a skittering Presto tenebroso, the third movement (Adagio appassionata) draws on lushly tender string sound and on the curve of John Bradbury’s exemplary clarinet lines.

The finale has an element of impudent and devil-may-care cheeriness about it – an upstart Schwejk. While it starts with a bold statement, the movement as a whole is ultimately not loud but seemingly reflective of some ambiguous and exhausted sunset. Here is a work that in its predominantly long violin lines reveals DNA related to that of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony but there is far more to it than that.

Not every performance of the Sixth includes the brief choral input in the finale but here Birmingham’s CBSO Chorus were present in force. Their superbly awed singing matched up to the Russian Orthodox burial hymn and its portrayal of the separation in death of the body and the soul. This is such a contrast with the bellicose ferment of the Ça ira and Carmagnole that put in an appearance at the start of the movement by an orchestra at full cry and high throttle. There are no fewer than seven French horns as if to drive the point home. On the other hand, it is completely at one with the Dies Irae which is quoted deliberately several times in the movement.

Since 2013, this was only the second time I had heard a Miaskovsky symphony live in a concert hall. My first experience (the composer’s last symphony) was in 2014. I have high hopes of hearing the Fifth and the Violin Concerto but sadly nothing on which to build those hopes.

Sinaisky, who conducted the whole concert without baton, was in constant expressive motion on the podium. One saw and sensed the delight he has in a magically skilled orchestra with whom he has worked for decades. The BBC Phil’s adventurous virtues sing well with this smiling, demonstrative and approachable conductor.

Sinaisky has already shown his volcanic and poetic mettle in reviving Moeran’s G minor symphony at the Proms (issued with a recent copy of BBC Music Magazine) and in Manchester back in 2009. I also recall a moving Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony with the BBC Phil in Chester Cathedral in the early 2000s. This orchestra clearly cherish this conductor – and he them – as well they should.

Apart from my hopes – built on my wish-list – of hearing Sinaisky conduct Miaskovsky’s Fifth, BBC Mediacity should also venture forth with Latvian composer Jānis Ivanovs’s Fourth Symphony Atlantis. Sinaisky surely knows the Miaskovsky Fifth and Ivanovs’s Fourth. I would expect that Manchester audiences would be appreciative of such fresh experiences. Going by other orchestras on the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds, axis they would have this rewarding field very much to themselves.

Rob Barnett

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