BBCSO Concert – 9th February

Kevin Volans
Concerto for Double Orchestra [BBC commission: world premiere]
Piano Concerto No.1 in C
Symphony No.1 in E minor

Piotr Anderszewski (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Joseph Swensen

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 9 February, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Kevin Volans was cited in the programme note as wishing to “strip music of its content”. He succeeded in this BBC commission. With concerto and double orchestra aspects obtuse, Volans, born 1949 in South Africa, contrives a 20-minute doodle on a single chord, the open-air, perhaps folk-instrument imitations of the opening, like the piece as a whole, undeveloped and static. Volans, as was stressed in the programme’s introduction and composer-profile, may not be a minimalist, but he is repetitive. Stuttering rhythms and a tranquil refrain alternate, eventually becoming a lullaby accompaniment; its rocking could end at any time but vacuously prolongs the stagnation evident after five minutes.

Anderszewski was surprisingly disappointing. With runs less than mercurial, and a less than limpid touch in the slow movement, the pianist suggested a mix of objectivity and disdain that rarely engaged. He did focus in the shortest of Beethoven’s three cadenzas. Despite an enthusiastic accompaniment from Swensen, the opening movement’s martial step and Romantic lingering didn’t quite gel, and the ’Largo’ meandered, torpor broken by Richard Hosford’s transmitting clarinet solos. The finale, spirited certainly, was heavy-handed, the ’swing’ episode deadpan. One member of the audience took exception and booed; certainly this proved an unfavourable contrast to Radu Lupu’s subtlety, poetry and spontaneity in this concerto a month ago. [CLICK HERE]

Swensen likes to keep music on the move. Sibelius’s first numbered symphony emerged as small-scale and not a little noisy in this primary-colour, crisply detailed, efficiently played rendition, one that was heartfelt but not soulful enough, one short on narrative and panoramic atmosphere.

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