Symphony No.1 in G minor, Op.13 (Winter Daydreams)
Seid nüchtern und wachet, ‘Faust Cantata’
Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano), David Hansen (countertenor), Robert Murray (tenor) & Mark Stone (baritone)
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 18 February, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Apart from their Russian nationality, this coupling of music by Tchaikovsky and Schnittke seemed worlds apart. So it proved, although had “Faust Cantata” been performed first then its fade to darkness (literally in terms of the lighting) would have made the shivering opening to ‘Winter Daydreams’ a pertinent if chilly release back into life.
Vassily Sinaisky, so familiar from his work with the BBC Philharmonic, was here possibly making his debut appearance, certainly a rare one, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Sinaisky’s genial and assured conducting aided a passionate performance performed with Slavic vividness and tempered by some exquisite changes of dynamics, although at its loudest the performance was too much for the bright immediacy of the Barbican Hall. The slow movement, enjoying a broad tempo and some sensitive pianissimos, reached a vibrant, horn-led climax. If the scherzo could have been a little swifter and even lighter, the waltz-like trio, decorated here by woodwinds suggestive of bracken, was pure delight. The finale, once past the lugubrious introduction, was ebullient, Sinaisky putting his foot down but saving a ‘kick’ for the final bars if losing a few details along the way. A fine concert performance, reminding that Tchaikovsky’s early symphonies tend to be unfairly neglected, and here, by curious happenstance, recalling that Evgeny Svetlanov’s very last concert was with this orchestra in this hall and included ‘Winter Daydreams’, which is now happily preserved on an ICA CD in a release contemporaneous to this concert.
“Faust Cantata”, first heard at the Vienna Festival in 1983, begins with a tango rhythm tapped out on drums with piano and spooky organ in attendance. Trombones masquerade as air-raid sirens and Schnittke’s trademark harpsichord offers a baroque inference, while two electric guitars and an oleaginous saxophone offer later-era tints. The piece is eclectic in style, schizophrenic, and including popular song, the mezzo-soprano requiring a microphone in one section, and with decibel-crunching volume. But it works, and it compels, and had here a superb performance from all concerned, the BBC Symphony Chorus at its fullest complement. The 35 minutes flew by … but beware pacts with the devil.