Missa mirabilis [European premiere]
Holiday Diary, Op.5
Gavotte fantastique, Op.54/2
The Black Maskers – Suite
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Richard Uttley (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 26 February, 2013
Venue: Studio 1, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Delaware Road, Maida Vale, London
This attractive assortment of Anglo-American music recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3 began with Stephen Hough’s Missa mirabilis (2012), now using full orchestra instead of the original organ. Hough, best-known of course as a leading pianist, is proving to be an accomplished composer of approachable and likeable music. Beginning on distant horns, a rather Mahlerian touch, maybe, the choir issues rather Poulenc-like writing (which Hough acknowledges), the opening ‘Kyrie’ warm and consoling if bittersweet, followed by a ‘Gloria’ that is bright, silvery and jubilant with a reflective mid-point. This setting (lasting just over 20 minutes), if sometimes stylistically difficult to pin down, radiates vivid communication – including anxiety, rising-sun ecstasy, sweet seduction, plea-bargaining and, most of all, belief, and enjoyed a thoroughly prepared European premiere from the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra under David Robertson.
These artists took a break and Richard Uttley delighted the ear with solo piano music. Benjamin Britten’s Holiday Diary (1934) is of precocious prestidigitation, and Uttley caught unerringly the music’s rippling evocation, its rhythmic flair and its hustle-bustle. If not always obviously by Britten there was no doubting a young man’s talent and confidence, mirrored by Uttley, and culminating in ‘Night’, shaped with sensitivity. Uttley then offered something from the salon with Amy Beach’s Gavotte fantastique (1903), charming in its capricious formality, and played with affection.
Finally, and staying in America, the Suite that Roger Sessions (1896-1985) made in 1928 from his ballet score, The Black Maskers (1923), when he expanded the orchestration. We should hear more of Sessions’s music not least the very advanced style that graces his later symphonies. The Black Maskers is music of power and suggestion, beginning with a gnarled ‘Dance’, edgy and hallucinatory, later sections being ghoulish and propulsive, but not without exquisiteness – a passage with solo flute and solo viola sticks in the mind before the wild abandon continues. This is a strangely beautiful music at times, and also thrilling. David Robertson and the BBCSO gave a compelling performance that was a revelation.