Miroirs – Alborada del gracioso [orch. composer]
Broken Chant [BBC co-commission: world premiere]
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition
Lisa Batiashvili (violin) & François Leleux (oboe)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: David Bignell
Reviewed: 15 February, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Ravel, as well as being a gifted composer, was also a phenomenal orchestrator. This programme featured two pieces that underwent the Ravel treatment, both having starting life as piano works. His own Alborada del gracioso (from the piano suite, Miroirs) proved a lively and engaging opening, and the ever-popular Pictures at an Exhibition (another piano suite) closed the concert with suitable aplomb. As the concert’s centre-piece was a new work by Giya Kancheli, specially commissioned for the husband-and-wife team of François Leleux and Lisa Batiashvili.
Broken Chant opened sumptuously and with a beautiful demonstration of bow- and breath-control from the two soloists, who passed the floating snatches of melody back and forth with intimate sensitivity and wonderfully well-matched tone. 25 minutes later they were still playing beautifully, but the audience had long since ceased to care, as Kancheli’saimless and self-indulgent puddle of sound had seeped its way past any hope of redemption. Bafflingly stilted, any hint of mounting excitement led unfailingly to abrupt silence and a descent back to cloistering lethargy, as if the composer was desperate to avoid reaching any sort of climax, or betraying any glimpse of structure or direction. It was doubly distressing to watch two gifted soloists mired in this swamp with no opportunity to display their artistic palette, particularly considering their obvious synergy as a duo. Their spirited encore demonstrated the enjoyment they derive from playing together, but Kancheli’s leaden writing afforded them no chance to exploit this. The only drama eventually left in Kancheli’s work was an increasing sense of panic that it might never end!
The lugubrious pall that Broken Chant cast over the audience and the orchestra lasted through the interval and into the concert’s second half. It wasn’t until the fourth section of Pictures at an Exhibition that signs of musical life began to flow back. The opening felt tired and noncommittal, and the colours in Ravel’s orchestration had faded into sepia, though the orchestra’s soloists all played well. Fortunately the irrepressible charm of the work eventually won out, and it is hard not to enjoy ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’.
The most fun of the evening, however, seemed to be had by the youthful yet multiple-prize-winning Lionel Bringuier. He presided over the orchestra with great aplomb, although his somewhat showy enthusiasm didn’t seem to have made much impression on the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The result was an assured if unexceptional account of the work, but there is clearly talent here and it will be interesting to see what greater experience – and a better programme – will produce.