Musical Futures in Safe Hands – BBCSO/Brabbins (20 November)

Divertimento in D, K136
Clarinet Concerto
Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.26

Martin Fröst (clarinet)

Alexander Slobodyanik (piano)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 20 November, 2003
Venue: BBC Studio One, Maida Vale, London

In the week that the BBC announced the architects appointed to build the new music studios in West London – due to open in late 2006 or early 2007 and what the press is already terming “The Music Box” – the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave one of its occasional concerts in Studio 1 at Maida Vale, its home.

Originally meant to consist of three concertos, given by three of the current crop of the BBC’s New Generation artists, the Mozart Divertimento was a late replacement for Bernstein’s Serenade which was to have been played by Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, who was ill. It is good to report that Martyn Brabbins and the BBCSO strings – both so much better known for contemporary repertoire – acquitted themselves handsomely, with only a couple of snatches needed to be retaken.

The “studio concert”, given before an audience is a curious beast, especially for those who are only used to the “public concert”. Here, if the recording demands it, after the complete performance there is the possibility of sections being re-recorded to patch in to the finished broadcast version.Both concertos underwent a modicum of this visitation, the wonder being how each of the soloists (without music) could just jump in at the appropriate moment for the retake. And it is instructive to see and hear what the conductor, soloist and producer wants to re-take.During Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst’s cadenza the audience upstairs in Studio 1 were painfully aware of the lengthy operation of a fellow audience member unwrapping a cough sweet (although there had been no coughing before), followed by an uncontrolled and noisy folding and refolding of the programme. I can’t have been the only one who was agitated for the sake of the players (although it may have been that neither they nor the microphones picked it up), while I rehearsed inside my head – in a screaming voice – what I would like to say to the culprit: “If you’re this disinterested in the music, why come here?!”

That – and a bout of coughing early in the Prokofiev – aside, we were treated to two great concerto performances.I had not seen Martin Fröst play before, but had heard of his interest in choreography (he dances and plays in a work written specially for him, Peacock Tales, and in January will take part in a performance while roller-blading). It was no surprise to see him almost dance the Nielsen, leaning into phrases, rising to high notes, bending to low.This was peerless playing, with a clear full tone and a depth of understanding of the work that released not only Nielsen’s characterisation of the original player – turbulent Aage Oxenvad, as Robert Simpson described in his note – but also eked out tremendous subtlety, making the work richer for it. Even for an avid Nielsenite like myself, performances of the Clarinet Concerto are very few and far between, and certainly more by Martin Fröst would not go amiss! For those wanting to explore, Fröst records for BIS.He is also among the first award winners from the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.

Russian-born Alex Slobodyanik was one of EMI’s ’debut’ artists – his disc of Chopin and Schumann came out in 1999.I heard him earlier this year with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Gergiev, inRachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody, where I understand the conductor had left him so little rehearsal time that it was a miracle that he could give such a committed performance. Thankfully there seemed to be no lack of rehearsal for this BBC concert and Slobodyanik revelled in the percussive use of the piano in which Prokofiev excelled. If Martin Fröst danced on his feet, Slobodyanik, sitting away from the keyboard, looked as if he might push the stool away from under him, flexed his shoulders in time to Prokofiev’s rhythms, especially in the hand-crossing bravura passages in the first movement.

This was a magnificent display of muscular pianism, entirely suited to the work.The dry acoustic of Studio 1 also suited the piano’s brittle attack, so sometimes the orchestra even at full power was effortlessly drowned (the recording balance should be more equal).

A hugely enjoyable concert, then, with two young artists whose careers will be a pleasure to see developing.

  • Prokofiev and Nielsen broadcast in Afternoon Performance (BBC Radio 3, 2 p.m.); Prokofiev on 24 November, Nielsen on 26
  • If you would like to attend BBC Symphony Orchestra concerts at Maida Vale then call BBC Audience Services on 020 8576 1227 or visit BBC Tickets
  • Borletti-Buitoni Trust

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