First Symphony (in One Movement), Op.9
Piano Concerto in G
Icarus in Orbit [UK premiere]
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition
Javier Perianes (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 9 February, 2018
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The New Yorker James Feddeck’s invitations to conduct this side of the Atlantic are piling up and he has already made his mark in the UK with Birmingham, Bournemouth and BBC orchestras. His debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra was further evidence that he is a name to follow, as a great colourist with an attractive, non-managerial flair that encourages musicians to expand and breathe. This quickly became clear in Samuel Barber’s Symphony No.1, a twenty-minute through-composed work that presses the broad outline of sonata-form into four sections (as in Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy and Sibelius Seven), with a lot of organic cross-referencing of themes. As with the Violin Concerto and the Adagio for Strings, Barber wrote his First Symphony during 1935 (mostly), when he was in his twenties, his conservative style fully formed with romantic tunes and gestures, with each of the sections, especially the ultra-lyrical Andante tranquillo, punching above their relatively short durations. Barber’s orchestration achieves big things through carefully crafted means, the BBCSO fielding eloquent solos from oboe and cello, and Feddeck turning a flattering light on Barber’s melancholic undertow.
Then Javier Perianes bustled on for a brilliantly spirited account of Ravel’s G-major Piano Concerto, in which it was as much a joy to witness the craft with which he addresses this deceptively ingratiating work as it was to hear how completely he connects with its sophisticated style of nightclub jazz and Mediterranean warmth. Feddeck’s laidback style gave Perianes plenty of room to cover Ravel’s conviviality, dreamy withdrawal and sharp wit, and their easy interchange of influence added to the pleasures.
The American composer, pianist and academic George Walker was born in 1922, only twelve years after his fellow-countryman Samuel Barber, and will be ninety-six later this year. His music had its Proms debut last year (with his best-known work, Lyric, given by Chineke!), and this UK premiere of Icarus in Orbit (written in 2004) nudged the concert-hall door a fraction more open on this prolific creator. This brief symphonic poem has a very American confidence, with striding themes, decisive rhythms and bold orchestration describing vaunting ambition leading to precipitate fall, all brilliantly realised by Feddeck and the BBCSO.
There was also plenty of bold colour in Ravel’s scoring of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. I admired the way Feddeck possessed the ‘Promenade’ theme with the same sort of directness as a pianist might, there wasn’t a hint of Mussorgsky’s wild angularities being planed-smooth by Ravel’s vivid reimagining, and even the extended bombast of ‘Great Gate of Kiev’ was more grand than grandiloquent.