France, Finland and Fiesta

Sinfonietta, FP141 (1947)

Debussy (orch. S. Oramo)
Pantomime (1882); Romance (pub. 1913); Apparition (1884)

Boulanger (orch. Inkilä)
Un grand sommeil noir (1906)

Partita (2009)

Sibelius (orch. Oramo)
Höstkväll, Op. 38 No. 1 (1904)

Aho (orch. T. Oramo)
Three Songs to Poems by Edith Södergran – No. 3, Revanche

Fiesta! (2008)

Anu Komsi (soprano)
BBC Concert Orchestra
Anna-Maria Helsing

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 30 October, 2020
Venue: Southbank Centre – Royal Festival Hall

The BBC Concert Orchestra is no stranger to diverse programming – this evening’s concert, its first in the Royal Festival Hall for over six months, playing to its collective strengths with a sequence of works that coalesced more readily in performance than seemed likely on paper.

Its composer’s only major work for orchestra not involving a soloist, Poulenc’s Sinfonietta is typical of his maturity in its eclecticism. Look beyond those incisive elements as drawn from Stravinsky or Roussel, moreover, and deeper or more ambivalent emotions seem everywhere apparent. The four movements of what becomes a latter-day ‘classical symphony’ can easily lose focus, but Anna-Maria Helsing (the BBCCO’s principal guest conductor) exerted a firm grip over music whose discursive attractions were never at the expense of its formal cohesion.

Three songs by Debussy, each attesting to the composer’s early proficiency in this genre and enhanced by orchestrations of no mean perceptiveness by Sakari Oramo, were rendered with conviction by Anu Komsi. She was no less assured in Nadia Boulanger’s take on a Verlaine poem previously tackled (among several others) by Ravel and Varèse, and while lacking the tangible atmosphere imparted by those very different figures, her setting yielded an evocative quality which Turkka Inkilä’s imaginative orchestration likely brought out in fuller measure.

Among the leading Finnish composers of the middle generation, Sebastian Fagerlund is still to build a reputation in the UK – from which vantage, this performance of his Partita should do no harm at all. Scoring for strings and percussion would be less notable were it not for the composer’s skill in integrating these two groups so the timbres and textures of one seem to emerge out of the other; the movements evolving from ‘Mysterious’ activities, via ‘Furious’ gestures, to ‘Intense’ emotions palpably sustained through to a raptly introspective ending.

Anu Komsi then re-joined the orchestra for two further songs. One of numerous settings by Sibelius that have latterly been taken up by a new generation of singers, Autumn Evening is typical in the impassioned rumination of its vocal line heard against the sombre backdrop of an accompaniment again transformed orchestrally by Oramo. Known primarily as a flautist, Heta Aho (born 1992) is also emerging as a composer; this third of a cycle to poems by Edith Södergran evincing a heightened emotion in this vehement orchestration by Taavi Oramo.

Finally, to Jimmy López, the Peruvian composer whose music has increasingly made its mark on both sides of the Atlantic. Fiesta!typifies not only the panache but also resourcefulness of his orchestral writing – these four ‘pop dances’ leaving an impression, in what is evidently a reduced orchestration, through a deftness and precision which is well removed from Latin-American archetypes. Not the least notable factor is the degree to which the follow-through of these pieces outlines a cumulative design which makes for more than the sum of its parts.

An effective showcase, too, for the BBCCO to round off what was a programme of many and varied contrasts, making its return to live music-making in fine style. Hopefully, events since this concert took place will not bring a cessation to what has started and needs to continue.

This concert can be heard on BBC Sounds at

Skip to content