Philharmonia Orchestra/Sokhiev + Richard Baker Music of Today

Richard Baker
Gaming [UK premiere]
Learning to Fly

Ryan Wigglesworth (piano), Eric Villeminey (cello) & Stephen Burke (percussion) [Gaming]

Mark van de Wiel (basset clarinet)
Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra
Ryan Wigglesworth

Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op.36
Piano Concerto No.2 in F, Op.102
The Rite of Spring

Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Tugan Sokhiev

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 15 April, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

The early-evening (free and informal) Music of Today recital featured two works by the English composer and conductor Richard Baker (born 1972). Gaming (new this year) is for piano, cello and percussion, the latter being xylophone. Each instrument is “prepared and amplified”; difficult to see (literally) how the preparation of cello and percussion was achieved, but “today’s Guardian” found its home inside the piano – as revealed by the composer who was sitting in front of me – with the end soundworld result being not far away from John Cage’s adventures in this area. Over 13 minutes Gaming (part inspired by the “… sounds that accompanied the video games of my youth”) was humorous and capricious with intriguing rhythmic overlays. Learning to Fly (1999), for basset clarinet and an ensemble of thirteen musicians, is jazzy in its outer movements, cool in the middle one (and blessed with a particularly expressive cor anglais solo). The very end of the work, eerie and fragile, if curiously inviting, took the 15-minute Learning to Fly in a new direction yet also with a sense of belonging. First-class performances were presented to an encouragingly good-size audience.

Tugan Sokhiev. ©Patrice NinIn the evening concert, Tugan Sokhiev began with a well characterised account of Rimsky-Korsakov’s majestic and exhilarating piece, here incantatory, magically weaved and celebratory. The Rite of Spring, launched by a plaintive bassoon solo (presumably from Michael Cole), was scrupulous, if occasionally running ahead and occasionally ponderous. The very final chord was anything but together and the ‘Sacrificial Dance’ itself was altogether too analyzed for a dance of death, although the ear appreciated the dissection of the notation. Attention to details in the strings was constantly illuminating, and Sokhiev and the Philharmonia’s feel for texture gratifying, and sometimes powerfully atmospheric. Short on theatricality at times, yet avoiding the showpiece tag, this account held the attention for the most part without establishing a truly distinctive course of its own.

Yevgeny Sudbin. Photograph: Mark HarrisonShostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto has been doing the rounds with London orchestras in the last few weeks – and Sokhiev conducted a performance just over a year ago with the Philharmonia and Nikolai Demidenko. Presumably there is a sliding scale of fees that pays a soloist less for Shostakovich 2 than for Brahms 2, for a pianist can be off home after just 20 minutes with the former yet still be performing at the 50-minute mark with the latter. Yevgeny Sudbin bought welcome tapering to his unforced performance, building the music rather than hammering it home. The song-without-words slow movement was effective for its artless simplicity, the orchestra suggesting a nocturne, but Sokhiev was simply too loud in relation, a curious aberration, and lost essential intimacy. The finale was spirited and shapely, any temptation to nip through it resisted. A tart and detailed accompaniment offered further pleasure. Sudbin delayed his departure by a minute with what appeared to be a little more Shostakovich, biting sarcasm to the fore.

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