Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Op.50
Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra
Pavane pour une infante défunte
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Yan Pascal Tortelier
Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel
Reviewed: 5 November, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Hindemith’s Concert Music for Strings and Brass was the final piece in a group of four works called “Konzertmusik”, a very functional title for music which is anything but. Lasting a shade over 15 minutes, the work for Strings and Brass is more expressive than much of Hindemith’s earlier writing, especially in the second section of Part Two. His first work of the 1930s, it has the feel of a music attuned to the modern age, much in the vein of Walton’s First Symphony, who later based one of his own works on a Theme of Hindemith. Here Yan Pascal Tortelier and the BBCSO were spot-on in capturing the white-heat of Hindemith’s inspiration with precise ensemble, clean textures and a sense of urgency which made this a compelling listen. The playing throughout was flawless, rasping brass a prominent feature.
Conversely, it’s not hard to fathom why Debussy’s Fantaisie rarely gets much of an outing. It’s one of his less-inspired early works, lacking the originality and sensuousness of some others. Nevertheless there is much to enjoy, especially when performed with this degree of flair and subtlety. Tortelier uncovered a wide range of tonal colourings that were matched by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s rippling piano-sounds and lightness of touch, perfectly capturing the mood of Debussy’s creation especially in the exquisitely shaded second movement and the light soufflé of the finale. Just released on Chandos is this team’s recording of the Debussy, coupled with Ravel’s two piano concertos.
After a rather disappointingly routine Pavane, marred at the outset by a flat entry from the first horn, the Mussorgsky started off in extraordinary fashion. Frustrated by what he saw as the slowness of some of the second violins to take their places, Tortelier simply started without them! So, the opening brass ‘Promenade’ rang out while several of the orchestra were still scurrying to their seats. Remarkably this didn’t seem to unsettle the musicians and they delivered a performance resonant with incisive characterisation coupled with some outstanding solo turns. Martin Robertson’s soulful alto sax brought ‘The Old Castle’ alive, while Bo Fuglsang’s stuttering trumpet vividly portrayed the poor Jew in the ‘Goldenberg and Schmuyle’ tableau. The closing ‘Great Gate at Kiev’ was thrillingly caught without ever descending into bombast.