Prom 57: 2nd September 2001 – Out of Light

Strauss
Till Eulenspiegel
Bartok
Piano Concerto No.3
Julian Philips
Out of Light [BBC commission: world premiere]
Rachmaninov
Symphonic Dances

Andreas Haefliger (piano)

BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Tadaaki Otaka


Reviewed by: Jason Boyd

Reviewed: 2 September, 2001
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London


For the last of its four Proms appearances, its Japanese Conductor Laureate, Tadaaki Otaka, and the Swiss-born Andreas Haefliger joined BBCNOW. This year’s theme of exile was clearly defined. Bartok’s Third Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances were both written after the composers’ move to America, and were here combined with music of the German cynic, Richard Strauss, and his satirical jaunt, Till Eulenspiegel.

A commission from Julian Philips, Out of Light, focused around the idea of movement from light to darkness, or what Philips describes as a ’rite of passage’; this could perhaps be linked to the concept of exile. His new work sounded rather filmic, something belonging to a science fiction movie.Phillips states that he drew inspiration from the journey into adulthood; one could conclude from this that he had a turbulent transition! Great surges of power in the brass, bass strings and percussion was contrasted with flickers of light, depicted by high muted strings, harp, piano and celeste. Philips explains that two opposing waves of musical energy shape the piece, two strongly contrasted worlds of colour, harmony and gesture. Out of Light begins with music celebratory and diatonic, then into a tonally unstable darker landscape, sinister and thick in texture. A bridge-passage of muted string harmony expanding and contracting like bellows links the sections successfully. This 20-minute work – one expressive and creative, one revealing Philips’s controlled and effective handling of the orchestra – held my attention throughout.

Bartok’s concerto is mellower than his first two works in this genre, both percussive and aggressive. In No.3, Bartok emulates Classical and Romantic concerto-writing, making satisfying use of interplay between soloist and orchestra, and returns to the concertante, sonata and rondo forms that he had largely abandoned in the astringent, uncompromising works of his middle period. Andreas Haefliger seemed to relax halfway through the first movement, his playing becoming more lyrical and articulate. His use of weight in playing legato chords at the opening of the second movement – leaning forward over the keyboard – produced a solid, intense, yet beautiful tone. His concentration was focused; the fugato episode towards the end of the third movement was crisp, leading towards a climactic finish.

The Strauss and Rachmaninov pieces were energetic and captivating. Otaka brought a fine rhythmic sense to both, ensuring some effective crescendos and well-balanced sound in these lively renditions.

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