The Crazed Moon
Piano Concerto in G
Symphonie fantastique, Op.14
Lars Vogt (piano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 6 February, 2003
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Now into his second year as Composer-in-Association with the CBSO, Julian Anderson tonight heard a revival of his most distinctive orchestral work to date. Distinctive because The Crazed Moon (1997), taking its title from a lunar lament by W.B. Yeats, is a funeral march whose impact is perceived as a musical rather than real-time process. That this process is itself one of abrupt juxtapositions in mood and material enhances the overall unity and consequent catharsis: a telling tribute to composer Graham Smith – whose promise was cut short in 1995, aged only 23.
Haunting offstage fanfares frame an elegy whose slow underlying pace is belied by the textural elaboration reached at the main climax, in which gongs – subtly varied as to dynamics – and much-divided strings create a heady aura reminiscent of Messiaen’s writing from the early 1960s. Sakari Oramo’s performance was at its most insightful here, carrying the music through to its transformed starting point with calm inevitability. Earlier, he had taken the cumulative activity of the central section at slightly too headlong a tempo – the many interweaving variants of the main theme losing some of their definition before the orchestra ’eclipses’ itself in a sequence of valedictory chorales. An unorthodox and powerful threnody, demonstrating Anderson’s orchestral prowess at its keenest.
The insouciance and poignancy of Ravel’s G major concerto could not have been in greater contrast – though, as abetted by Oramo, Lars Vogt’s conception was a far cry from the winsome, ’toy Mozart’ demeanour so often conveyed. The opening ’Allegramente’ revelled in its pointed mood-swings, Vogt’s uneven articulation of the main theme balanced by some delectable shading in its bluesy successors. The smouldering soulfulness behind the placid façade of the ’Adagio’ was rendered without affectation, while the closing ’Presto’ was a riot of sharply-etched irony and bracing humour. As a result, the concerto felt bigger in its dimensions and deeper in its resonance – gratifyingly so.
From the revivified Classicism of late Ravel to the heightened Romanticism of early Berlioz is a fair step in time and aesthetic; Oramo’s perceptive account of the Symphonie fantastique was unfailingly musical in its response to the work’s imaginative excesses. The highlight was the central ’Scène aux champs’, its synthesis of Weberian poetics and Beethovenian symphonism disciplined yet expressive. The depictions of ’Ball’ and ’Scaffold’ either side were given with symphonic weight, and if the opening ’Reveries’ lacked the last degree of passion, the ’Witches’ Sabbath’ was despatched with lurid grandeur – bells sounding from the echo chambers to impressive effect. The CBSO wind section gave its collective all (a particularly busy evening for cor anglais player Peter Walden), and the playing overall was another fine testament to Oramo’s rapport with the orchestra.