BBCSO/Mälkki Artur Pizarro

Passacaglia, Op.1
Concerto in D for Piano (Left-hand)
Bernd Alois Zimmermann
Photoptosis – Prelude for large orchestra
La valse – poème choréographique

Artur Pizarro (piano)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Susanna Mälkki

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 30 January, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

An interesting selection of works. Webern’s Passacaglia was not his first piece but it marked a new direction after years of study under Schoenberg. By its very title, Webern had one foot in the past, and the other one firmly planted in the future, the soundworld of Mahler and Schoenberg, the 12-note method clearly signposted. Susanna Mälkki and the BBC Symphony Orchestra captured fully the transitional nature of the work with a finely nuanced performance that illuminated Webern’s transparent textures together with a firm sense of momentum.

Susanna Mälkki. ©Tanja AholaRavel’s Concerto for Piano (Left-Hand) was composed 20 years on from Webern’s piece. Here the influences similarly look forward and back; jazz on the one hand, traditional Spanish music on the other. There are contrasting moods from reflective lyricism to the up-tempo bluesy march of the second section. Artur Pizarro seemed more at home in quieter passages where his delicacy of touch and sensitivity yielded moments of beauty. The march-like devil’s dance proved more problematic, orchestra and soloist sounding a trifle flat-footed set against the jazz-inspired rhythms. The closing cadenza, though, was finely spun, bringing the concerto to a satisfactory conclusion.

Pizarro returned for Richard Strauss’s charming early work, Burleske, which Strauss himself had little time for; it has become quite popular with pianists in recent years partly to conquer its considerable technical challenges (and deemed unplayable by its first dedicatee). No such problems for Pizarro who surmounted those difficulties with ease. His elegant turn of phrase captured the cheeky humour in Strauss’s writing. The BBCSO was on better form here, providing a lively and witty accompaniment, the dialogue between timpani (Christopher Hind) and soloist a highlight.

Beforehand there had been a powerful and well-rehearsed performance of one of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s last pieces, Photoptosis (1968). Taking its inspiration from the monochrome paintings of the French sculptor and painter Yves Klein, Zimmerman saw parallels with his own attempts to create a similar soundworld through music. Photoptosis, translated from the Greek as ‘Incidence of Light’ conjures up huge orchestral sonorities in which timbre and meter are blurred. Pulse is almost undetectable. Musical quotations abound, from Beethoven to Scriabin (although you need a keen ear to detect all of them) and the final section of the 12-minute piece explodes in a shattering crescendo of massed strings and shrieking brass – all carried off with great skill from Mälkki and the BBCSO.

La valse ended the concert and succeeded through measured tempi, full-sounding strings and a sense of inevitability – from a civilised world of elegance and certainty to one of doom and decay.

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