Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Aufgang [UK premiere]
Rugby (Mouvement Symphonique No.2)
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36
Renaud Capuçon (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 3 May, 2014
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The second half of the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s current season has included first hearings (at least in the UK) of violin concertos by several leading contemporary composers, and this time it was the turn of Pascal Dusapin – who (60 next year) has only recently begun to establish a presence here comparable to that he has long enjoyed in Western Europe. A notable event in that process was the performance of his orchestral work Morning in Long Island at the Proms two years ago, and this piece was the next one that he finished after a three-year gestation.
As the title implies, Aufgang (2011) is primarily concerned with points of entry – in this instance, one of ascent (literal or metaphorical) as is reinforced by the high-lying nature of the solo writing over much of the work’s length. A rather cryptic statement near the head of the programme-note that it is “in three movements” indicates its fluid overall evolution, with the first of these setting out the notion of the soloist leading the way, merging out of and back into the orchestral texture in a process frequently imperceptible in its subtlety and finesse. The far longer second movement then develops this thinking over two interrelated stages, both of them initiated by faster scherzo-like interplay that each time subsides onto a plateau of calmer dialogue (a flute much in evidence) and resulting in a cadenza-like passage which ultimately brings about a fleeting close. The much shorter finale attempts a synthesis of the foregoing with its mainly fast tempos and a more aggressive orchestral response which ultimately sees the violin propelled back to the stratospheric height from which it emerged. If not (albeit on a first hearing) among Dusapin’s most engrossing works, Aufgang nonetheless provides an intriguing twist on the concerto format, and one which benefitted from the advocacy of Renaud Capuçon in playing as eloquent and incisive as the music necessitated.
Opening each half were French pieces which could hardly be more contrasted in temperament. Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894) was given a languorous yet never indulgent rendering that, if it seemed to get slower as it unfolded, was in accord with the evolution of Mallarmé’s poem as it grows more inward and ‘removed’ in manner. After the interval, a welcome revival of Honegger’s Rugby (1928) – which, if its depiction of a game in-progress is difficult to follow, remains among its composer’s most extrovert and life-enhancing statements: though ‘life-enhancing’ seems hardly appropriate in the brutal and occasionally lethal context of French rugby as it was then played. Suffice to add that there was nothing at all undisciplined about the BBCSO’s uninhibited response.
Elgar’s Enigma Variations (1899) is a work that Sakari Oramo has given frequently over the years, most recently at last season’s Proms. This account took advantage of the Barbican Hall’s more-immediate acoustic to drive home the swifter sections with even greater alacrity, though such did not preclude a more considered response to the surging emotion of ‘C.A.E’ or the winsome pathos of ‘R.P.A’. Variations VIII and X were lighter and more flowing than is often the case, so enabling ‘Nimrod’ to form the natural climax without need for excessive emotion. The contemplative mystery of XIII then found productive contrast with the finale, a depiction of the composer in which any passing doubts were powerfully overcome by the (organ-less) if affirmative but never triumphalist closing pages.