Composers in Conversation
Imperial College Union, London
Two Eardley Pictures – 1: Catterline in Winter [BBC commission: world premiere]
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Petrushka [1947 version]
Pekka Kuusisto (violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Brian Barford
Reviewed: 5 August, 2016
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Helen Grime is worth getting to know. In her interesting Conversation with Andrew McGregor (without live music on this occasion) she revealed a wide range of cultural tastes. She recounted how she took inspiration for her two-part (if self-contained) Eardley Pictures not just from the work of Scottish artist Joan Eardley’s indigenous landscapes but also the traditions of ballads sung by farm labourers and in pibroch chants.
These harmonic and rhythmic shifts were evident in Catterline in Winter with its leaden sky and flashes of light, which begins in a low register with a gently pulsing string figure like a lullaby which then becomes layered with brass and violent woodwinds. These slowly mutating figures are interrupted by three vigorous episodes inspired by the sun breaking through the oppressive greyness. The end is silence. This complex music, a cliff-hanger, was presented with clarity and precision under Thomas Dausgaard.
Pekka Kuusisto is an obvious crowd- pleaser. His impish, nimble manner created intimacy even in a space as large as the Royal Albert Hall and his lack of formality is refreshing. It could be argued that in trying to make Tchaikovsky’s familiar classic appear freshly-minted Kuusisto goes too far. He brought out the song-like nature of the melodies against the energy and boldness of the orchestra, especially in the first movement and emphasised the Russian folk elements. The cadenza was almost caricatured and produced titters from the audience! The central ‘Canzonetta’ can often be robbed of its simplicity by over-affectionate lingering but Kuusisto did not adopt too slow a tempo and brought out its lyricism. The Finale worked best, alternately high-kicking and soulful, although throughout one was more aware of Kuusisto’s intervention than the music.
Kuusisto can do (or continued the) comedy as well with a folksong from his native Finland, from Karelia, in duet with leader Laura Samuel and then leading the audience in a full-throated singalong.
Following the interval Dausgaard conducted Petrushka, rather subdued to begin with if with plenty of detail and fine solos. As the performance progressed the BBCSSO got more into its stride and the burlesque and parody elements were heightened and stylish, strings not losing out to the rest of the orchestra in terms of balance. At the close, the appearance of Petrushka’s ghost made for uneasy listening.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3; Composers in Conversation recorded for transmission during the interval (both available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms