Marko Pop (violin), William Imbert (cello) & Thomas Besnard (piano)
Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London
Overture Le corsaire, Op.21
String Quartet No.6, ‘Hinterland’ (‘Hapax’ for string quartet and orchestra) [UK premiere]
Arditti Quartet [Irvine Arditti & Ashot Sarkissjan (violins), Ralf Ehlers (viola) & Lucas Fels (cello)]
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 27 July, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Following his recent Proms debut, Pascal Dusapin had little time to wait before the follow-up. Hinterland (2009) is the sixth in a sequence of seven (to date) string quartets with few equals from present-day composers for diversity and immediacy of content. Additional interest comes in its scoring with orchestra – hardly the first of its kind, yet one eschewing neo-Classical (or neo-Baroque) connotations associated with this juxtaposition. Not that quartet and orchestra are so much juxtaposed as integrated during the 21 minutes of a piece notable for its economy of ideas as well as its rigour of harmonic and rhythmic continuity. To which end the orchestral component is restricted – just double woodwind (plus two horns) alongside a modest complement of strings (no percussion) – to facilitate the interplay of texture. What resulted was an absorbing, if necessarily low-key entity, in which the activity of the quartet is sometimes ‘amplified’ by the orchestra while that of the latter is on occasion ‘condensed’ into the latter: centrifugal and centripetal tendencies constantly and intriguingly at work in an exploration of that ‘farther territory’ which often seemed as if overheard and where three brief interpolations for quartet alone were as an opening-out and distilling of the music’s expressive soundworld.
Hinterland was played with the fierce concentration typical of the Arditti Quartet – its recording of the first five quartets (on Aeon) is required listening – and attentively directed by Thierry Fischer, whose encouragement of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales to project its contribution avoided its becoming submerged within the generous Royal Albert Hall acoustic. Less accessible than Morning in Long Island though arguably more tightly constructed, it made a singular impression as befits the ‘one-off’ of its subtitle. Hopefully this brace of Proms performances will herald greater exposure for Dusapin’s music in the UK than hitherto. Prior to the main concert Dusapin was heard in conversation with Andrew McGregor during the first of this season’s Portraits, a frank and often amusing discussion which was rounded-off by the performance of his Trio Rombach (1998). The composer pointed out that he had previously fought shy of wiring for the piano, though there was nothing unidiomatic about the writing in a piano trio named after the French village where it was created: the three movements, played without pause, moving from a gradually dissipated momentum via a pensive and uneasy reflection to a tense and inconclusive dialogue – all ably realised by three outstanding Guildhall School musicians.
The Prom itself had commenced in the manner of a programme of French ‘lollipops’ such as Thomas Beecham might have given. Berlioz’s Le corsaire (1844) received an engaging outing – phrasing a little over-indulged in the slow introduction, perhaps, but the main allegro was incisively rendered, the BBCNOW brass leaving nothing to chance in the effervescent coda, with Nice rendered in an (unexpectedly?) appealing light. After which the cool though never frigid detachment of Fauré’s Pavane (1887) made the greater impression, a miniature which evokes much more than it states when rendered with playing of such poise and refinement.
Hard to believe that the complete Firebird ballet (1910) was first heard at the Proms as recently as 1972, given the ubiquity this enjoyable if unwieldy score has since enjoyed here, as elsewhere. What impressed in this account was the refinement of the solo wind-playing in a score that, whatever it indebtedness to past models, remains a decisive statement of intent. For his part Fischer was especially adept in the often-lengthy passages of scenic description that can pass for little, not least a vivid account of the ‘Ivan/Kashchei’ confrontation where the deployment of offstage trumpets and Wagner tubas audibly paid off. Elsewhere the performance often failed to ignite: whether in a ‘Khorovod’ non-descript in its chasteness, an ‘Infernal Dance’ that rarely scintillated, a ‘Berceuse’ lacking inner rapture and an ‘Apotheosis’ incisive rather than resplendent. Only a year after Valery Gergiev’s breathtaking Proms reading, this was not a rendition likely to linger long in the memory.