In concert – BBC Philharmonic Orchestra & Jac van Steen – David Matthews Symphony no.10 world premiere, Schubert & Brahms

jac-van-steen

Brahms Piano Concerto no.1 in D minor Op.13 (1854-8)
Schubert
Overture to Rosamunde D797 (1820)
David Matthews
Symphony no.10 Op.157 (2020-21) [World premiere]

Stephen Hough (piano, below), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Jac van Steen (above)

MediaCity UK, Salford Quays
Friday 20 May 2022, 3pm

Written by Richard Whitehouse

A substantial programme was the order of the day for this afternoon’s studio concert from the BBC Philharmonic with Jac van Steen, given at the orchestra’s regular base in MediaCityUK and that featured a first performance anywhere for the Tenth Symphony by David Matthews.

Whereas his previous symphony was written for relatively modest dimensions, the Tenth marks a return to larger forces: triple woodwind (with doublings), four horns, three each of trumpets and trombones, tuba and four percussionists alongside timpani, celesta, piano, harp, and strings. It also finds Matthews (above) retackling the one-movement format that dominated his earlier symphonies, allied to a subtle process of developing variation such as ensures unity across a varied and eventful discourse. Not least when that massive opening chord sets out a long-range tonal and harmonic trajectory for this work overall, and to which a pensive (offstage) cor anglais solo then intensifying string fugato provide both continuation and contrast by anticipating the types of expression and motion as variously come to the fore.

Distinctive in themselves yet drawn into a tensile and cohesive entity, the constituent sections take in a wistful intermezzo then an agile scherzo on the way to a central culmination whose increasingly explosive energy likely marks a point of greatest engagement with that opening chord. The music duly heads into a slower episode of sustained emotional raptness, elements heard earlier gradually being recalled through an unforced while never discursive process of reprise towards a coda whose ending seems the more conclusive for its poised equivocation. An absorbing and often gripping exploration of symphonic tenets such as Matthews has long pursued, persuasively realized by the BBCPO and van Steen – whose support of the composer – having already recorded the Second, Sixth and Eighth Symphonies – hardly needs restating.

Before the interval, Stephen Hough (above) was soloist in Brahms’s First Piano Concerto – a piece he has given many times (not least a memorable reading at London’s Royal Festival Hall in the early 1990s, Andrew Davis also giving a seismic account of the Symphony by the late Hugh Wood). There was emotional breadth aplenty in the initial Maestoso, but also latest energy as came to the fore in a combative development and tempestuous coda. Nor was the symphonic aspect underplayed in what is still the most monumental opening movement of any concerto.

If the central Adagio lacked a degree of repose in its orchestral introduction, Hough’s take on its almost confessional solo passages brought the required inwardness, with the course of this movement towards its agitated peak or enfolding serenity at its close never in doubt. Nor was that of the closing rondo, especially a central episode whose string fugato was deftly rendered then the piano’s gentle response enticingly conveyed. After the cadenza, horns and woodwind emerged as if leaving a benediction prior to the triumph that coursed through those final bars.

Throughout this performance, van Steen was an alert and responsive accompanist – then put the BBC Philharmonic through its paces with an animated account of Schubert’s Rosamunde (a.k.a. Die Zauberharfe), which made for an engaging if unlikely entrée into the Matthews.

For more information on David Matthews you can visit his website here. For more on the artists in this concert, click on the names to access the websites of Stephen Hough, Jac van Steen and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Let’s Dance – Moderat

Last week saw the return of German super-trio Moderat, releasing their first album since a hiatus that began in 2017. More D4ta (a clever anagram) marked the creative renaissance of a group made up of Modeselektor (Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary) and Apparat (Sascha Ring)

It is without doubt the equal of the band’s previous work, with a wide variety of beats and styles, but we have selected a cut from the middle of the album suitable for a Saturday. Neon Rats is a journey right to the middle of the dancefloor. Enjoy!

To listen to the whole of More D4ta, click on the Bandcamp link below:

In Appreciation – Vangelis

by Ben Hogwood

As you have probably heard, the Greek composer and synthesizer maestro Vangelis has very sadly died at the age of 79.

Over his illustrious career, Vangelis has given us some of the very best and most recognisable film scores, not to mention productive projects in pop and classical music. A pioneer right through his musical life, he signed off with a typically ambitious piece of work, the Juno to Jupiter album for Decca.

A celebration of his career would not be complete without the inclusion of his timeless, majestic score to Blade Runner, a game-changer when it appeared in 1982:

Perhaps his best-known film work dates from the previous year, the soundtrack to celebrated film Chariots of Fire:

Meanwhile his pop projects included a strong connection with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson, which brought among many things I’ll Find My Way Home:

Meanwhile the Juno to Jupiter project mentioned above was a late work, featuring soprano Angela Gheorghiu:

One of the most-shared videos in the light of Vangelis’ passing has been Aegean Sea, a track from the 666 album released under his Aphrodite’s Child pseudonym in 1972:

Listening to Beethoven – normal service will be resumed shortly!

from Ben Hogwood

Regular readers of these pages may have wondered what has happened to Arcana’s Beethoven listening project. I am very pleased to say that it has not finished, merely been put on pause – and will resume with the mighty Eroica symphony very soon! To whet your appetite, here is a 2016 concert performance from the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada:

Switched On: Loscil – The Sails p.1 & 2 (Bandcamp)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Sails is a two-part collection of music written by Loscil for dance projects over the last eight years. It brings together a number of specially commissioned projects, many of which were performed only once – and the Vancouver producer has arranged them into two collections of nine pieces each. These available on Bandcamp at a ‘name your price’ rate for the digital files, or as a double CD edition with special artwork.

What’s the music like?

This is a very interesting insight into Loscil’s creativity, and is a more animated complement to the serenity and vastness of his artist albums.

The two collections work well when listening back to back. There are the flickering messages of Wells, and it soon becomes apparent that there is more nervous energy in the foreground than we are used to in a Loscil set of pieces. This movement it is counteracted by slow, measured steps that are beautifully poised, sometimes acting as drones or operating with slowly shifting harmonies.

Some of the pieces are structured like an arch, with a composition like Still progressing from bare elements to richly textured loops with more movement, and then panning out again. Wolf Wind, a striking evocation, has a settled backdrop of a single held drone that changes colour thanks to the subtle movement in the middle ground.

Loscil also uses beats in a subtle but meaningful way. In Never they ricochet across the stereo picture, increasing their dominance over the slower musical processes going on behind. By contrast a work like Century has a stately beauty, like the opening of a flower.

Does it all work?

It does. The music has a different ambience to it from Loscil’s through-composed albums, but the use of more animated musical figures against a background stillness is still immensely reassuring, panning out into some richly shaded scenes.

Is it recommended?

Yes – the ideal complement if you already own a good deal of Loscil’s music. If you don’t, the ‘name your price’ option gives you no excuse not to get acquainted!

Listen & Acquire