The French entrée counterpart for the second half, Ravels own orchestration of the piano-original Menuet antique, was altogether more enticing. Spiky and dulcet in the outer sections, this nostalgic dance is a real eye-moistener in its melancholy asides, especially in the trio, its lines lucidly balanced by Slatkin, not least the plangent bassoon expression. Slatkins integration of sections was appositely classical rather than yielding; yet there was no lack of tenderness in this crisp and affectionate performance.
Christopher Rouses Alberich Saved (the composers translation) isnt a percussion concerto; Rouse prefers it thought a fantasy (one written for Evelyn Glennie). With such designation the rather loose structure is better appreciated; and while percussion concertos have a tendency to be limited in scope, Rouses inside-knowledge ensures idiomatic writing. Beginning with the final bars of Wagners Gotterdammerung, that is the end of the Ring cycle, the previously unaccounted for Alberich, scheming dwarf, is launched on another quest for the all-powerful trophy. Rouses tactile solo writing certainly suggests Alberichs fiendish machinations. If the still-centre of reflection is overlong, and the transforming of one of Wagners motifs several are alluded too to pop music is perhaps rather contrived, Alberich as rock drummer, then what is one of Rouses less-strong pieces sustains its 25 minutes through wit, imagination and vivid narration. Colin Currie, the villain of the piece, gave an infectious performance of enthusiasm and bravura, backed to the hilt. The (unavoidable) platform extension accommodating Curries instruments somewhat compromised the soloist/orchestra perspective.
No such problem of balance in Leonard Bernsteins Second Symphony, yet the now-unused front-space seemed to distance the orchestra a visual illusion playing aural tricks. Based on WH Audens Eclogue, Bernsteins use of a solo piano representing himself, it seems, and entwining with Audens forsaken characters in search of and a symphonic cast might suggest The Age of Anxiety as a hybrid. Yet it is neither symphony nor concerto; it is perhaps best perceived as music-theatre enacted within traditional forms and genres, the piano the main protagonist in a drama enacted through a two-part, six-section structure. James Tocco is a veteran of the piano part, a master of its commentary and isolation; even when the writing is virtuosic and vital there was no sense of concerto-display; and what a dark, disturbing piece this is under Slatkin. From the two-clarinet dialogue to the slowly-evolving hope of The Epilogue (echoes of Ravels Left-hand concerto here), Slatkins measure of the music was unerring the ingenious double set of seven variations (The Seven Ages; The Seven Stages), the Bergian The Dirge, its climax punctuated by stomach-kicking bass-drum thwacks, or the popular cut of the piano/percussion/slap-bass The Masque, party-music both high and descending to disorientation.
The indifference or hostility that attends Bernsteins music is to be wondered at. Whether for the concert-hall or the theatre, Bernstein left us some great music. The Second Symphony is certainly in this category, a literary-inspired symphony/concerto that feeds vivid theatre, the work of an unashamed American working within the European tradition to create something wholly personal. Having previously worked on The Age of Anxiety and recorded it, the BBCSO displayed its familiarity and confirmed Leonard Slatkins particularly compelling way with it perceptive to its core, individual, and with no doubts as to the musics validity.
- This concert is broadcast on Monday, 25 February, at 7.30 on BBC Radio 3. Click here to Listen on-line
- Saturday 23 February Mark-Anthony Turnage, A Quick Blast [London premiere]; Bernstein, Symphony No.1 Jeremiah (Catherine Wyn-Rogers mezzo-soprano); Ravel, Kaddisch from Deux melodies hebraiques (Janice Watson soprano); Bernstein, Symphony No.3 Kaddish (Eleanor Bron narrator; Janice Watson soprano; BBC Symphony Chorus; London Oratory School; Schola)
- Box Office: 020 7638 8891 www.barbican.org.uk
- Leonard Slatkin and the BBCSO have recorded Jeremiah and Age of Anxiety for Chandos click hear to read Steve Lomass review