The Cunning Little Vixen … Rainforest IV … New World Symphony

Janáček, arr. Tálich
The Cunning Little Vixen – Suite
Horn Concerto, ‘Rainforest IV’ [London premiere]
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

David Pyatt (horn)

BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Jac van Steen

Reviewed by: Dominic Nudd

Reviewed: 5 September, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This Suite from “The Cunning Little Vixen” is an arrangement by Vaclav Tálich of music from Act One and uses his own orchestration rather than Janáček’s more abrasive original. (Charles Mackerras has made a revision of the Suite more in-keeping with Janáček’s original, which should now replace Tálich’s well-meaning, if inauthentic version.) Jac van Steen secured warm and affectionate playing from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, deftly catching the interplay and intercutting of moods. The end of Part I was notable for leader Lesley Hatfield’s evocation of the sombre dying fall, and the contrasting Part II brought plenty of energy in the Vixen’s farmyard escapades, though at any dynamic above mezzo-forte, the woodwinds got lost in the texture, a recurring problem in the Royal Albert Hall.

John McCabe, 70 this year, a vital part of our musical lives for many years, is frequently underrated because he excels in so many disciplines – writer, pianist, teacher, as well as composer. The Horn Concerto, written for David Pyatt, was first heard in 2007 and plays continuously. Of its five sections, McCabe identifies the second and fourth as urban landscapes, relating his fondness for West Coast jazz and the music of Gil Evans, the alternating slow sections representing contemplation of the rainforest itself. The opening horn solo unfolds gradually, building a lyrical line, supported by marimba; then brilliant trumpet fanfares are swung easily. In the central section, the marimba is again prominent, over hushed strings, evoking a mysterious, almost brooding, atmosphere, and in the second scherzo, underpinned by pizzicato double basses, the cityscape seems to owe more to Bartók than to the West Coast. The solo epilogue ends on a questioning crescendo. This is a fascinating work presented here with persuasive confidence.

Dvořák’s so-familiar ‘New World’ Symphony presents a particular challenge to any conductor to make the music sound fresh. This performance – warm, singing and affectionate, with fine solo work – didn’t quite capture the sense of a work discovered anew. In the second-movement Largo, the famous cor anglais solo, played very simply without affectation by Zoe Kitson, missed the last ounce of ache, and although taken up by the strings with sweetness, the response was not greatly nostalgic. The expressive silences in the coda were marred by persistent coughers. The other movements were similarly finely shaped and executed. All in all a performance of distinction, well prepared and presented.

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