Lyric for Strings
Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat, Op.19
Circadian Refrains (172 Days Until Dawn) [BBC commission: world premiere]
Stephen Hough (piano)
Members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 5 September, 2020
Venue: City Halls, Glasgow
Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen (for twenty-three solo strings) has done sterling service during lockdown, a gift to reduced, socially-distanced ensembles. Directed on this occasion by Alpesh Chauhan (the BBCSSO’s Associate Conductor, here replacing Thomas Dausgaard, SSO chief baton-wielder), this World War Two-inspired masterpiece, a pallbearer for German culture and which links arms musically with Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’, received a spacious and sensitive outing, lamenting without becoming mawkish – dignity at all times – if a little staid at times, not always as changeable as this music requires.
The concert opened with long-lived George Walker’s Lyric for Strings (1946), a musing piece in the mould of fellow-American Samuel Barber’s decade-earlier Adagio if without quite emulating it and despite a considerate and intense Glasgow performance. Fine artistry also informed the premiere of Jay Capperauld’s Circadian Refrains, which the Scotland-based composer (and saxophonist) says “has been written in direct response to the recent global lockdown implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to articulate the day-to-day experiences of lockdown in a musical setting.” Opening with ghostly knocking and eerie refrains, the ten-minute score (including winds and percussion) becomes restless and anguished, and in a state of emotional flux. It’s an arresting piece.
With Stephen Hough as soloist this Prom’s centrepiece was Beethoven’s B-flat Piano Concerto. Chauhan set a moderate tempo for the opening movement, which Hough seemed at-one with, exploring beyond the nippy sparkle (such a quality being reserved for the Finale, displaying an infectious bounce) with which this opener is more-often-or-not despatched. Such consideration was rewarding, a probing journey leading to Hough’s own likeable and in-keeping cadenza (as recorded on Hyperion as part of his complete LvB Piano Concertos) and coming into its own with a rapt realisation of the Adagio.
For an extra, Hough anticipated Metamorphosen by playing ‘Träumerei’, the fourth piece from Strauss’s Opus 9 Stimmungsbilder. The pianist’s delicate touch conveyed the music’s reverie in convivial fashion.