Beyond the Reach of the World – first movement
Intimations of Luminous Clarity [world premiere]
Musicians from the Royal Academy of Music: Auriol Evans (cello), Tom Lee (percussion), Zubin Kanga (piano) & Karin Hendrickson (conductor)
Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London
Cave of Luminous Mind (The Transcendent Journey of Milarepa) [BBC commission: world premiere]
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36
Lisa Batiashvili (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 21 August, 2013
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Sakari Oramo’s second Prom as Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra proved a substantial affair, opening as it did with a new work by Param Vir. Best known for his stage-works, Delhi-born Vir has long evinced a complete mastery of the orchestra and the 22-minute Cave of Luminous Mind (2013) confirmed this in no small measure. Subtitled ‘The Transcendent Journey of Milarepa’, it takes its inspiration from the quest of the Medieval Tibetan sage – here portrayed over two complementary movements. The first, ‘Still’, unfolds gradually though never hesitantly – the caressing modal harmonies underpinned by subtly variegated string glissandos; whereas the second, ‘Vibrant’, is richer in incidental detail yet altogether more demonstrative in its rhythmic energy which generates a considerable expressive frisson towards the close. Dedicated to the memory of Jonathan Harvey, this is an impressive addition to Param Vir’s catalogue and received a performance from the BBCSO both scrupulously prepared and vividly projected.
Prior to the concert, Vir had discussed his music and his compositional thinking in the context of three recent pieces. Constellations exuded a bewitching timbral and textural finesse in its evocation of Orion and Pegasus – and with the Milky Way variously intervening as a ritornello – while the first movement of Beyond the Reach of the World brought together cello and percussion for a visceral tribute to Danish freedom-fighter Kim Malthe-Bruun who was murdered by the Gestapo in the Second World War. Often dazzling in its sonorities, Intimations of Luminous Clarity is derived from the piano-writing of the new orchestral work. The musicians from the Royal Academy of Music gave their considerable all.
Both as a Finn and a former professional violinist, Oramo likely has a real affinity with Sibelius’s Violin Concerto (1905). Certainly he has conducted it on many occasions, and this account partnered him with Lisa Batiashvili – with whom he made a notable recording some years ago. There was no doubt as to the efficacy of their rapport – and, while the soloist seemed just a little reined-in emotionally in the opening half of the first movement, there was no mistaking the cumulative eloquence she brought to the cadenza that effectively takes the place of a development, nor the commanding drive of the coda. Easy to underestimate as a formal conception, the slow movement lacked nothing in expressive fervour – not least in its sombre central section – then the finale powered forward with nimble dexterity as well as an irresistible impetus towards the close. Batiashvili was in her element here, as she was in the delightful encore, an arrangement of ‘Lele’ from a string-quartet suite by fellow Georgian, Sulkhan Tsintsadze, here arranged by Batiashvili’s father for violin and strings.
The strings (with violins now antiphonal) again took centre-stage after the interval in the Celtic Symphony (1940) by Granville Bantock. Coming after the opulence of his earlier Hebridean and Pagan symphonies, this might seem overly lightweight in conception – not least as the faster sections seem to peter out almost as soon as they have begun. Yet the meditative opening pages have a fervent sense of place such as keep the work on course when the main theme reappears towards its centre, while the final pages augment that idea in a heightened apotheosis capped by cascading arpeggios from six harps. This is at the very least impressive string-writing and Oramo drew some inspirational playing from the BBCSO.
Elgar’s Enigma Variations (1899) has never lacked for performances at the Proms, nor is Oramo a stranger to the piece – having made a fine recording when in Birmingham. This account began with a surprisingly severe rendering of the theme, but opened-out into a radiant evocation of the composer’s wife in the first variation. Highlights thereafter included the gentle pathos of ‘R. P. A.’, the wistful contentment of ‘W. N.’ and a rendering of ‘Nimrod’ that conveyed the music’s innate profundity without needing to over-do the rhetoric. After a suitable pause, ‘Dorabella’ proved a light yet not insubstantial intermezzo, while ‘B. G. N.’ brought a rapt response from cellist Susan Monks, then ‘*** (Romanza)’ provided an interlude of mystery and contemplation before the rousing finale that is ‘E. D. U.’ Rousing, that is, though never bombastic – Oramo drawing together the formal and expressive threads on the way to a forthright close, the Royal Albert Hall organ resonating through the texture towards the end of this indelible masterpiece.