Osborn The Biggest Thing I’ve Ever Squashed
Zisso A Standing-stonea
Knibbs Strings Bilateral
Maunders In The Land Of Hypocrisy
Morgan-Williams Parti Di-ffinau
Singh Lament for the Earthc
Baker The Radiance of the Spirit
Arakelyan Prelude and Allegro
James Come Show Them the Riverd
Slater Unravelling the crimson sky
Appleby Sonnet 43
Taylor-West Turning Points*
aYfat Soul Zisso, bHéloïse Werner, Bethan Lloyd, dMillicent B James (voices), cSimmy Singh (voice / violin), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Clark Rundell
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Sunday 29 January 2023 2.30pm
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse Photos courtesy of (and with thanks to) Aphra Hiscock and Jenny Bestwick
It might have been one of the few positive outcomes to come out of the pandemic, but the decision to programme these 20 pieces by young composers – commissioned by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra as part of its Centenary Commissions – in a single concert rather than across several seasons, as originally intended, paid dividends in terms of highlighting what was an important strand of the orchestra’s activities and so enabled an overview of present-day creativity that would have been impossible within a more generalized context.
Just how the running-order was determined was unclear, but the various juxtapositions were almost always to the advantage of each piece. Benjamin Graves grasped the nettle with music all about becoming rather than being, and Laurence Osborn implied more than even anarchic humour in intricately enveloping textures. Aileen Sweeney favoured an unabashed cinematic outlook, while Yfat Soul Zisso took centre-stage for her demonstrative take on a relatively circumspect poem by Howard Skempton. Chloe Knibbs drew a halting eloquence from the interweaving string sections, in contrast to the vividly gesticulating essence that doubtless reflected the convictions of Florence Anne Maunders. There was an appealingly whimsical quality to the writing of Bethan Morgan-Williams, then a ruminative aspect to that by Ryan Latimer veering towards the hymnic. Héloïse Werner favoured a gestural approach whose vocalise brought continuity almost despite itself, before Stephane Crayton rounded off the first half with music whose brooding understatement seemed an ironic comment on its title.
Playing violin alongside Bethan Lloyd’s impulsive vocal, Simmy Singh offered a lament of insinuating elegance, then Tyriq Baker focussed on the strings for a study of no mean pathos. Joel Järventausta must have been pleased with the performance of and response to his deftly ominous piece, as too Kristina Arakelyan by the rendering of her diptych with its evocative writing for cor anglais. Ben Nobuto fairly revelled in his capricious portrayal of the concept of ‘exiting’, whereas Millicent B James provided an undeniably charismatic rendition of her text-based setting. Angela Elizabeth Slater intrigued the ear with her fastidiously oscillating textures, while Nathan James Dearden teased out those competing implications from the title of his piece with a tellingly sardonic touch, before Anna Appleby pitched her instrumental take on verse by Elizabeth Barrett at a thoughtfully oblique remove. Ironic that the closing piece was the only one to have been heard before the pandemic, but Liam Taylor-West duly pulled out the stops with music whose scintillating orchestration more than deserved revival.
Throughout this programme, the CBSO gave its collective all over what was a considerable range of idioms – abetted by the assured conducting of Clark Rundell (above), who also introduced each half as well as providing continuity between items whenever necessary. Good to hear that the concert was being recorded by NMC Records for later digital release (with maybe an issue on CD too?), and all due credit to The John Feeney Charitable Trust for continuing to fund the orchestra almost seven decades after its first commission. The story continues…
You can read all about the 2022/23 season and book tickets at the CBSO website