City of London Sinfonia to the Rescue

Concerto in E flat (Dumbarton Oaks)
Paroles tissées
Siegfried Idyll
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Ian Bostridge (tenor)

City of London Sinfonia
Paul Daniel

Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 17 August, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

With the Orchestra of St Luke’s and Donald Runnicles grounded in New York by transatlantic flight restrictions, it was fortunate, as Nicholas Kenyon said when addressing the audience, that the Proms had secured a replacement ensemble and conductor not only willing and able to take on the concert but also the advertised programme.

Fortunate, too, not to be deprived of a rare opportunity to hear Lutosławski’s masterful song-cycle “Paroles tissées”. This 1965 setting of a surrealist text by Jean-François Chabrun evokes an unhappy love-affair as a sequence of moods and sensations; the poetry is allusive rather than descriptive, a sequence of images which reappear in different combinations, echoing back and forth through the verse. Lutosławski complements these ‘woven words’ with a musical cloth of surpassing delicacy, using pale-toned forces of strings, harp and percussion. By the time of the work’s composition, he had integrated his aleatoric techniques (giving musicians freedom within limits) into conventional musical structures; the effects produced – textures of sinuously sliding chords, unsettled, fidgeting motifs, or a shower of prickling pizzicatos – are uniquely evocative of spine-tingling unease.

Ian Bostridge was an excellent soloist, with an expressive clarity that brought the plain, unadorned vocal line to life; he found the languid ecstasy at the opening of the second tapestry, and floated the final note of the third with such beautiful purity as if to efface the terrors that had gone before. The musicians of the City of London Sinfonia were wonderfully assured under Paul Daniel.

The rest of the programme sustained the same high standard. Though the short rehearsal time showed in occasional rough edges, the orchestra played with commitment and sensitivity. Dumbarton Oaks was driven and fizzed with excitement. Siegfried Idyll, by contrast, was rapt and hushed, Daniel showing his Wagner chops in a well-paced reading that benefited from exquisite wind and brass playing. When Steven Stirling launched into the horn solo, there was the wonderful quality of silence in the Hall that only comes when an audience is on the edge of its seats.

The concert concluded with Mozart’s final symphony. No number of repeated hearings can dull the pleasure of hearing the superabundance of melody crammed into symphonic form, which threatens to explode at any moment. A chamber orchestra can bring clarity to the complicated contrapuntal textures, and Daniel’s reading emphasised this, sending motifs ricocheting around the orchestral sections. The coda of the finale, in which Mozart works out five themes simultaneously, was crystal clear in all its stupendous bravura complexity.

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