This Midnight Hour [London premiere]
Violin Concerto, Op.15
Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)
Vilde Frang (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 21 March, 2018
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The British-born (in 1980), New York-resident Anna Clyne has developed a formidable reputation. Her music is tonal and melodic, her manipulation of memory is second to none, and she has a genius for creating an emotional response through a mysterious process of collage and fragmentation. All of this, and a lot more, are there for hearing in This Midnight Hour, which was first heard in 2015 Orchestre National d’Ȋle de France. Inevitably, the title carries echoes of the much-covered pop-song ‘In the Midnight Hour’, and while the musical idioms are miles apart, they share the underlying anticipation of a dark, unruly eroticism. Clyne’s triggers are the melancholy sensuality of Baudelaire’s Harmonie du soir and a line from a poem by the Spanish writer Jimenez, which describes music as “a naked woman, running mad through the pure night”.
The strange thing about Clyne’s music is how it hovers between narrative and visual. Whether the music is pounding with energy, erupting with Brucknerian solidity, getting lost in some exquisitely conceived woodwind intimacy, then taking off into a waltz of melting beauty, you never lose contact with the savagery of eroticism. It is a remarkable work, and was played and conducted with commensurate insight.
Clyne’s brand of sonic visualisation complements Britten rather neatly. His much-revised Violin Concerto is increasingly being recognised as one of his major scores. Sakari Oramo, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Vilde Frang presented it as such. Oramo, with considerable authority, guided it firmly into areas of darkness reflecting its war-in-the-air provenance, going behind the young composer’s precociousness to expose some very raw nerve-ending. There is a brittle, Art-Deco brilliance to this 1938-39 work, but Oramo and the Orchestra added an anxiety and sense of isolation that sounded astonishingly prescient of Shostakovich, all these components compounded by Frang’s inward-looking, febrile and fragile engagement. Her tone slid imperceptibly from heart-breaking sweetness to ironic astringency, and the distracted spirit of Berg’s Violin Concerto hovered in the background.
Vilde’s elegant, seemingly cool persona was in marked contrast to the probing intelligence of her performance, which combined passion, technical wizardry and a subtly expressed reserve – in short, the sort of artistry that deflects attention away from itself. A spectral observer in the first movement, she was magnificently forthright in the long cadenza and then, in the final Passacaglia’s ruminations on major/minor scale, she eased open the Concerto’s visionary close in playing of sublime assurance. In every respect, this was outstanding, matched impressively by Oramo and the BBCSO.
The strings stayed at the same strength (based on eight double basses) for Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony, in which Oramo focused on instrumental balance and detail, with marvellous translucent results from the strings and wind-playing of infectious personality. He didn’t overplay the music’s scale, which suited the genial first movement (without repeat) and an attractively gurgling ‘Scene by the Brook’ perfectly, and which encouraged the ‘Shepherds’ Song’ to grow into uninflated grandeur.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- The UK premiere of This Midnight Hour was given on March 3 this year, BBC Philharmonic conducted by Ben Gernon, and was also broadcast on BBC Radio 3, on March 6
- BBCSO www.bbc.co.uk/orchestras/so
- BBC Radio 3 www.bbc.co.uk/radio3
- Barbican www.barbican.org.uk
- Oramo conducts Schmitt