The Crazed Moon Ravel
Piano Concerto in G Berlioz
Symphonie fantastique, Op.14
Lars Vogt (piano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
CBSO/Oramo The Crazed Moon (6 February)
Thursday, February 06, 2003 Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
Now into his second year as Composer-in-Association with the CBSO, Julian Anderson tonight heard a revival of his most distinctive orchestral work to date. Distinctive because The Crazed Moon (1997), taking its title from a lunar lament by W.B. Yeats, is a funeral march whose impact is perceived as a musical rather than real-time process. That this process is itself one of abrupt juxtapositions in mood and material enhances the overall unity and consequent catharsis: a telling tribute to composer Graham Smith whose promise was cut short in 1995, aged only 23.
Haunting offstage fanfares frame an elegy whose slow underlying pace is belied by the textural elaboration reached at the main climax, in which gongs subtly varied as to dynamics and much-divided strings create a heady aura reminiscent of Messiaens writing from the early 1960s. Sakari Oramos performance was at its most insightful here, carrying the music through to its transformed starting point with calm inevitability. Earlier, he had taken the cumulative activity of the central section at slightly too headlong a tempo the many interweaving variants of the main theme losing some of their definition before the orchestra eclipses itself in a sequence of valedictory chorales. An unorthodox and powerful threnody, demonstrating Andersons orchestral prowess at its keenest.
The insouciance and poignancy of Ravels G major concerto could not have been in greater contrast though, as abetted by Oramo, Lars Vogts conception was a far cry from the winsome, toy Mozart demeanour so often conveyed. The opening Allegramente revelled in its pointed mood-swings, Vogts uneven articulation of the main theme balanced by some delectable shading in its bluesy successors. The smouldering soulfulness behind the placid façade of the Adagio was rendered without affectation, while the closing Presto was a riot of sharply-etched irony and bracing humour. As a result, the concerto felt bigger in its dimensions and deeper in its resonance gratifyingly so.
From the revivified Classicism of late Ravel to the heightened Romanticism of early Berlioz is a fair step in time and aesthetic; Oramos perceptive account of the Symphonie fantastique was unfailingly musical in its response to the works imaginative excesses. The highlight was the central Scène aux champs, its synthesis of Weberian poetics and Beethovenian symphonism disciplined yet expressive. The depictions of Ball and Scaffold either side were given with symphonic weight, and if the opening Reveries lacked the last degree of passion, the Witches Sabbath was despatched with lurid grandeur bells sounding from the echo chambers to impressive effect. The CBSO wind section gave its collective all (a particularly busy evening for cor anglais player Peter Walden), and the playing overall was another fine testament to Oramos rapport with the orchestra.