Violins!! – Part 2

Candide – Overture
for the living (Violin Concerto) [BBC commission: world premiere]
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Purcell)
The Pines of Rome

Plus “Invisible Lines”, created by ‘Between the Notes’, members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and various young musicians

Viktoria Mullova (violin)

Between the Notes

Musicians from:
Berkshire Young Musicians Trust Ensemble
Cheltenham Music Festival Youth Ensemble
Southampton Youth Orchestra
The Sage Gateshead Weekend School

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 30 July, 2005
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Never has there been such an example of what the BBCSO should concentrate its undoubted talent on and equally what it should avoid. As a nation we spawn gifted sight-reading musicians that can play almost anything: as an ensemble the BBC Symphony Orchestra is the best of this talent; but however skilled is its dealing with unfamiliar and complex music, more well-known pieces fare less well.

Although “Candide”, initially a flop, was a constant problem for Leonard Bernstein, the score revised numerous times, the overture has always been a popular success. The rip-roaring opening was anything but in this staid and pedestrian rendition. Martyn Brabbins’s unhelpful conducting provided few cues for the orchestra to cling to which, ultimately, led to a ragged and boring performance.

By contrast it was clear how much more attention had been given to the premiere of Fraser Trainer’s for the living, a concerto for amplified violin and orchestra, the latter not amplified. Actually, there was little evidence of the violin being amplified – either visually or aurally. The piece was written for Viktoria Mullova. Trainer’s music is easily approachable and his select catalogue is often performed; his small output is due to his commitment to music education and working with non-professionals. He heads the London Sinfonietta’s education programme and has worked in schools, prisons and with communities.

The 30-minute concerto is played without a break and is in three distinct movements, fast-slow-fast, linked by unaccompanied passages for the soloist. Though derivative – shades of Bartók’s ‘night-music’ may be heard in the second movement alongside early Stravinsky – the piece is likeable.

Britten’s Young Person’s Guide was originally a film project, intended to introduce the instruments of the orchestra to schoolchildren. Dashed off in a couple of weeks the piece opens with a theme found in Purcell’s incidental music for “Abdelazar”. There follows Variations introducing the orchestra’s four sections and individual instruments, the Fugue putting the orchestra back together. The whole is wrapped-up with a triumphant restatement of Purcell’s theme. On paper, anyway! The BBC Symphony was at its most metronomic – all the notes in the right place but without any soul.

Soul was one thing that “Invisible Lines” had plenty of. The work was created by the musicians themselves during various workshops that culminated in London during the week leading up to this Prom, a collaboration involving the quintet known as ‘Between the Notes’ and musicians from the BBCSO and ‘amateurs’ from Berkshire, Cheltenham, Gateshead and Southampton. The group, placed in the centre of the Arena, was led by cellist Matthew Barley (Viktoria Mullova’s husband) who formed ‘Between the Notes’ in 1997. There is no written score, the musicians required to remember their invention, and while there is an improvisatory style there is also a clear structure with rehearsed riffs similar to the big-bands of, say, Kenny Wheeler. Standing in a circle the musicians faced inward only turning around for solos. Invisible Lines was based on the compositional principals that Fraser Trainer, a member of ‘Between the Notes’, used in his for the living concerto.

For Respighi’s The Pines of Rome, there were more young musicians – they joined the BBCSO and an engaging sound emerged but ensemble was, again, ragged. The nightingale sang, nestled amongst the lights in the gantry. The final vista of Rome was meted with trumpets, trombones and horns standing to attention as the organ played its twenty-something bars to bring the work to a close: not bad for a night’s work!

As the stage-crew made preparations for the last of the day’s Proms, I was left bemused as to the real significance of this concert as a showcase for the violin. Obviously there was Trainer’s concerto, although it did not show off many aspects of the instrument. Neither did “Invisible Lines”, though the ensemble did include a few violins. The late-night Prom features the folk-fiddle and the gypsy band.

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