CBSO/Oramo concert – 12th March

Photograph of Julian Anderson

Imagin’d Corners [world premiere]
Symphony No.1 in C, Op.21
Verklärte Nacht, Op.4

Mark Philips, Peter Currie, Martin Wright, Peter Dyson & Rachel McLoughlin (horns)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 12 March, 2002
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Julian Anderson’s first piece as Composer-in-Association with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has been much anticipated, not least for ways in which he might utilise the acoustical and spatial qualities of Symphony Hall. In the event, of course, this has been done with musical coherence foremost in mind.

The title is taken from the Seventh Holy Sonnet of John Donne:

At the round earth’s imagin’d corners,
Your trumpets, Angels, and arise, arise.
though with no literal analogy intended. Rather the ’imagined’ quality seems to refer to the larger space made possible by the varied placing of the horns. One of these remains seated between woodwind and brass, but the other four pursue a concertante function, and their movement during the course of the work – gravitating from offstage (the hall’s acoustic chamber put to evocative use), then to the centre-front of the platform, and finally to the corners of the stage – defines the three-part form of the work.

Parallel to this is the type of horn playing employed: opening with understated equal tuning, heard over gorgeously translucent string harmonies, in the slow first section; accelerating to an animated passage where the cors de chasse character of natural-horn playing is vividly evoked through just intonation; then to a climax of antiphonal alphorn-like calls as the orchestral writing reaches a peak of density and excitement.

Imagin’d Corners, in its sensitive use of harmonic overtones and scintillating instrumental interplay, looks back to Anderson’s earliest mature works, notably Diptych and the chamber piece Tiramisú – now with an orchestral command that denotes time well spent with an orchestra of the CBSO’s calibre. At barely nine minutes, it is briefer than expected, but its tensile momentum and intrinsic quality are never in doubt. The five obbligato horn players proved more than equal to the challenge, and Sakari Oramo directed with his customary flair.

This latter quality was then placed at the service of Beethoven’s First Symphony. Too often heard as part of an integral cycle, or as an entrée to the Ninth, this deceptively unassuming piece wears its Classical credentials with not a little anticipation of expressive intensities to come. Oramo’s fastidious sense of balance and articulation ensured a forceful though never high-pressured reading, at its most perceptive in the lightly-sprung rhythmic interplay of the ’Andante’ and dynamic forward motion of the ’Finale’.

After the interval, Verklärte Nacht in Schoenberg’s 1943 transcription – interestingly the first time that the orchestra has played the work. No slight to Oramo’s interpretation, but Richard Dehmel’s poem, which provided the music’s inspiration, seemed less evident, or indeed relevant. From the outset, this was an abstractly-conceived view – harnessing changes of mood in the lengthy second and fourth sections to variations in harmonic density and melodic contour, with the shorter sections framing them in securely focused expression. Whether or not Oramo has conducted – or in his capacity as a violinist, played – the work before, this was a performance that demonstrated the all-round prowess of the CBSO’s strings to an admirable degree.

  • Imagin’d Corners is repeated at Symphony Hall on Thursday, 14 March, with music by Berlioz, Ravel and Mussorgsky
  • Box Office: 0121 780 3333

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