Four-horned Fandango [European premiere] Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73(Emperor) Poulenc
Timothy Brown, Michael Murray, Andrew Antcliff & Christopher Larkin (horns)
Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
Judith Howarth (soprano)
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra - 28 March
Thursday, March 28, 2002 Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by Ian Bowers
Surely there has to be more of a theme to a concert than this miscellany? Apart from each piece needing soloists, it was difficult to find a link between the chosen works.
As if to prove this concert had turned programming on its head, the best came at the beginning. Four-horned Fandango seems to me one of Mark-Anthony Turnages finest pieces, music that begins in darkness and ghostly images. Its rich inventiveness and imposing atmosphere suggests the golden colours of Spain through orchestral power and indigenous dance. Its an emotional score, one viewing motivic ideas from different angles; in this and the unremitting intensity, Harrison Birtwistle is recalled. The four horns dominate the scene while strings and percussion offers vibrant backing; the timbres change, the concentration doesnt until the Messiaen-like transcendence of the gleaming coda. The four horn-players were outstanding; Andrew Davis, long a Turnage champion, in his element.
The mystery then is why Davis and his former orchestra lapsed into a primary, undiscriminating if enthusiastic accompaniment for Beethoven. This Orchestra lacks the requisite culture for such repertoire; hopefully, Leonard Slatkin, Daviss successor, will invest more character and discretion. Davis delivered an over-bright and forced exposition. Ironically, when something bright and shining was needed, the required details failed to break through. But then Thibaudets unsubtle, hard-edged pianism got the co-operation it deserved. Quite why he is held in such esteem is beyond me. His percussive touch, routine phrasing and lack of colour refute such critical conspiracy. Technically laboured some very poor trills and over-pedalling to cloudy effect, Thibaudet occasionally showed imagination but it was lost in a perfunctory rendition sadly typical of this pianist.
There was more than a feeling that Davis was intent on keeping Poulencs mix of piety and outrage as doctrinaire as possible. Written in 1949 on the death of a friend, Poulencs Stabat Mater walks a tightrope between profundity and sentimentality. Held aloft with sweet lyricism and radiant penitence, and belonging to this earth in its invective, the musics sparseness reminds of Pergolesis famous setting. Moments of refined aura cite Verdis Four Sacred Pieces and, surprising this, when resounding celebration of the deity is imbibed, Bruckners F minor Mass is recalled. Daviss rendition seemed rather small-scale, despite expressive solos from Judith Howarth and some impressive singing from the chorus. Somehow the austerity, contemplation and anguish didnt quite gel. If Davis gave us the text, he didnt get under the skin of Poulencs setting of it.
The BBCSO and Martyn Brabbins explore Glieres rarely performed, epic Ilya Murometz Symphony at the Barbican this Thursday, 4 April live relay on BBC Radio 3 at 7.30 Click here to Listen on-line