BBC Symphony Orchestra at Barbican Hall – Ryan Wigglesworth conducts European premiere of his Etudes-Tableaux, Mauricio Kagel’s Etudes and Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony – Sophie Bevan sings Richard Strauss songs

Mauricio Kagel
3 Etudes für Grosses Orchester
Amor, Op.68/5; Winterweihe, Op.48/4; Das Rosenband, Op.36/1; Wiegenlied, Op.41/1; Ständchen, Op.17/2 [orch. Felix Mottl]; Meinem Kinde, Op.37/3; Cäcilie, Op.27/2
Ryan Wigglesworth
Etudes-Tableaux [European premiere]
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.97 (Rhenish)

Sophie Bevan (soprano)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Ryan Wigglesworth

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 6 February, 2015
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Ryan WigglesworthPhotograph: Wigglesworth can be relied upon for distinctive programming in his concerts with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, as it proved here when he opened with a hearing (only the second in the UK) of the Etudes (1996) that were the main orchestral focus of Mauricio Kagel’s later years. Although each was written for a different occasion (and for a different orchestra), these three pieces – each around eight minutes in duration – make for a highly unified as well as eventful triptych. If the first feels the most consistent in its constant accumulation of activity towards a surging culmination then a rapid dispersal, the second is arguably the most typical in its cross-cutting disparate ideas that make its aggressive denouement the more startling, then the third acts as a natural conclusion with its indelible underlying rhythm effecting a tumultuous close.

It is a tribute to Wigglesworth’s own abilities as a composer that his Etudes-Tableaux (2014) did not suffer in comparison. Premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Möst last month, this is itself a conception in several sections – but here the sequence is continuous so that an arch-like structure becomes audible as the work unfolds. The orchestral textures are for the most part rich in detail; moreover, there is a clear trajectory in the way that ideas reappear and are transformed within a constantly intensifying framework; then capped not by the main climax as by the teasingly insubstantial coda. This piece also gave further notice both of its composer’s acute ear for sonority and of his interpretative skill in conveying this to the musicians; qualities as underline just why Wigglesworth has become a composer-conductor with whom to reckon.

Sophie BevanPhotograph: © Sussie AhlburgBetween these pieces, and before the interval came a sequence of Richard Strauss’s orchestral Lieder – a medium in which his output is well served, yet which (the ubiquitous Four Last Songs aside) are not overheard in the concert hall. If hardly a song-cycle in follow-through, the seven chosen made an enticing miscellany – Sophie Bevan bringing out the deft artfulness of ‘Amor’ (1918/40) and intimate confiding of ‘Winterweihe’ (1900/18), before the whimsical charms of ‘Das Rosenband’ (1897) prepared admirably for the rapt contentment of ‘Wiegenlied’ (1899/1900) with its luminous and delicate scoring. Strauss was unimpressed by Felix Mottl’s orchestration of ‘Ständchen’ (1886) but it serves the music’s coy sentimentality well enough, while the nocturnal poise of ‘Meinem Kind’ (1897) and ecstatic bliss of Cäcilie (1894/97) find the composer at more nearly his best.

Wigglesworth sympathies in symphonic repertoire are doubtless broad (one recalls an often fine Stravinsky Symphony in C some years ago), and he assuredly had the measure of Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ Symphony (1850) – nor least with an opening movement that did not underplay the music’s more reflective or ambivalent elements in the context of its underlying buoyancy. The ingenious variation-like interplay of the Scherzo was pointedly conveyed at a never inflexible tempo, as was the winsome charm of the ensuing intermezzo, and while the fourth movement’s Cologne Cathedral-inspired solemnity erred a little towards portentousness, this did not pre-empt the finale’s unforced gaiety as it nimbly takes in ideas from earlier in the work on the way to its uninhibitedly affirmative close, as so here and to a worthwhile evening.

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