Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.15
Concerto for Orchestra
Daniel Hope (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Yan Pascal Tortelier
Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker
Reviewed: 7 November, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The absence of any music by British composers in the BBC Symphony’s 2007/8 season at the Barbican Hall under its chief conductor Jiří Bělohlávek was repaired in the programme the Orchestra gave under Yan Pascal Tortelier. The first half was made up of two British works – The Sea by Frank Bridge and Britten’s Violin Concerto.
Pleasure at hearing our national broadcasting organisation’s senior orchestra playing British music for once was somewhat tempered by the repertoire chosen: Bridge’s The Sea is a very well orchestrated suite in four movements, but offers no other redeeming feature. All in all, it is an insignificant work, without a memorable idea in its twenty or so minutes’ duration; for this subject, Bridge’s greatest pupil, Benjamin Britten, displays in his ‘Four Sea Interludes’ from “Peter Grimes” the very qualities of originality and memorability that Bridge’s work so comprehensively lacks. None the less, this was a good performance.
Daniel Hope’s account of Britten’s fiendishly difficult – in every sense, technical, musical and intellectual – Violin Concerto was also good; in certain respects, especially in the cadenza and for much of the passacaglia finale, very good indeed. It was thrilling to hear him tackle the stratospheric solo writing with such command and technical aplomb, yet his tone in the first movement was inconsistent – rather thin when it should have been opulent – but there is no doubt that Hope’s musical heart and his technical abilities were very much in the right place. The BBC Symphony partnered its gifted soloist in excellent fashion.
The concert ended with Lutoslawski’s brilliant Concerto for Orchestra, Tortelier conducting this three-movement, thirty-minute showpiece from memory. One doubts if many conductors – or indeed any – are able to duplicate this feat, for Tortelier studied this score closely with the composer as a young man, and clearly rates it very highly indeed. With the score firmly in his head, and not his head in the score, we were treated to a performance of considerable virtuosity and power, never lacking sensitivity and lyricism when called for. Yet not even Tortelier could avoid the impression that the finale is somewhat long for its material, although he was able to raise the BBC Symphony to a high degree of commitment in its individual and corporate musicianship. This was a memorable performance of no little stature, the conductor excelling himself in his physical responses to the music, much to the delight of some younger members of the audience.