Prom 16: Twentieth-century Blues?

Ravel
Rapsodie espagnole
Szymanowski
Violin Concerto No.1
Debussy
Première rapsodie
Lutoslawski
Concerto for Orchestra

Kyoko Takezawa (violin)

Ronald van Spaendonck (clarinet)

BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Tadaaki Otaka


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 31 July, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London


Just why this Prom was so poorly attended is unclear (those twentieth-century blues, perhaps?) – in terms of planning and execution, it is sure to be one of the successes of the season.

Tadaaki Otaka’s conducting, with a keen sense of orchestral balance and a fine ear for timbral finesse, is ideally suited to what one might generally term the French-related repertoire. The four sections of Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole followed on unobtrusively but with their motivic connections subtly highlighted. The atmosphere of ’Prélude a la nuit’ was suffused with anxiety, and the only proviso was the close of ’Feria’ – every detail in place but lacking the exhilaration the music needs at this point.

Karol Szymanowski has certainly come in from the cold over the last two decades, though even as characteristic and accessible a work as his First Violin Concerto (1916) has yet to fully establish itself in the repertoire. As with most of his mature output, the rhapsodic, intuitive progress of the soundworld belies the cunning with which ideas emerge from each other and transform themselves over time. The inspiration comes from Tadeusz Micinski’s poem “May Night”, a conflation of the exotic and the ecstatic typical of its period; beyond the sheer allure of the music’s sonorities lies a vulnerability in the knowledge of an ever-present and hostile reality.

Kyoko Takezawa has made some impressive appearances in London in recent years, but none finer than this. The finespun, lyrical virtuosity of her playing and lightness of touch in the brief if climactic cadenza was complemented by her purity of tone in the ’nightingale’ arabesques that frequently adorn the texture. Otaka balanced the lush, translucent orchestral writing with unfailing resourcefulness, cushioning the soloist in an expressive backdrop that was never cloying or overbearing. A performance to remember.

A further solo contribution with Debussy’s brief but alluring Première rapsodie – a rare example of a test piece that sums up its composer’s idiom. Ronald van Spaendonck was the fluent if perhaps too reticent soloist, slightly under-projecting the more capricious passages. Yet there was no doubting his feeling for the music’s gentle languor, nor the elegance with which he despatched the closing flourish.

Otaka had prepared a rousing finish in Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra (1954), the culmination of his folk-influenced period and a triumph of creative imagination in the face of cultural constraint. BBC NOW relished the opportunity for display and corporate virtuosity, but were mindful of the musical worth and expressive focus in the poetic close of the ’Intrada’ and wistful emergence of the chorale which caps the expected albeit never routine or bombastic apotheosis. Otaka entered fully into the spirit of the work – giving the rousing tutti passages their head and ending a wholly satisfying concert in fine style.



  • BBC Radio 3 re-broadcast on Monday, 5 August, at 2 o’clock

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