Oberon Symphony Orchestra – UK premiere of Enescu’s Fourth Symphony

Richard Whitehouse on a major British premiere given by the Oberon Symphony Orchestra and their conductor Samuel Draper (above)

St James’s, Sussex Gardens, London on Saturday 29 April 2017

Mahler Blumine (1884)

Bartók Romanian Folk Dances, BB76 (1917)

Schubert, realized Newbould Symphony No. 10 in D, D936A (1828) – Andante

Enescu Symphony No. 4 in E minor (1934, orchestration completed Bentoiu) UK premiere

Tonight’s concert from the Oberon Symphony featured a British premiere (the second from this orchestra) in the Fourth Symphony by Enescu. Written largely during 1933-4, this was left in abeyance with only the first movement and the start of its successor orchestrated. That the work was structurally complete enabled the composer and musicologist Pascal Bentoiu (who would have turned 90 this month) to prepare this in 1996 for performance; since when, there have been several more hearings in Romania and Germany but not until now in the UK.

Compared to the opulence of its two predecessors, the Fourth Symphony is audibly a product of the inter-war years. Playing for around 33 minutes, its three movements evince traits from Bartók and Stravinsky, but there is little overtly neo-classical about a content which features some of the most emotionally charged music Enescu wrote. Much of this impact is achieved by opening-out the nominal formal designs in a process of continuous variation that extends across the piece, and resulting in a ‘tragedy to triumph’ trajectory beholden to no precedent.

It was that sense of music in perpetual evolution that came over strongly in this performance. Adopting a trenchant yet never inflexible tempo for the opening Allegro, Samuel Draper duly brought out the drama and pensiveness of its main themes, then found no mean eloquence in the climactic stages prior to a brutal descent into silence. From here emerges a fusion of slow movement and intermezzo that unfolds uncertainly but never aimlessly across a landscape of echoes and allusions; an intensifying processional Draper controlled superbly while ensuring the melismatic solo writing was accorded necessary expressive space. There was a palpable expectancy conveyed as the finale hovered into view; this free rondo evolving as if a ‘stretto’ of mounting activity to a coda whose affirmation is informed by evidently bitter experience.

It was just such an ambiguity that came across so tangibly here, Draper maintaining seamless momentum throughout this movement’s formal complexity and textural intricacy as found its fulfilment in the tonal resolution of the closing bars with their implacable final chord. This set the seal on a reading of real conviction and insight, in which the Oberon SO has rarely played better, that communicated itself readily to the enthusiastic audience. The UK may have had to wait over two decades to hear this work live, yet its essential worth was more than vindicated.

The first half prepared well for the Enescu with a trio of contrasted pieces whose juxtaposition itself offered food for thought. Starting as incidental music then briefly finding a home in his First Symphony, Mahler’s Blumine had a wistfulness and poise to the fore here, then Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances elided keenly between incisiveness and elegance. Schubert’s ‘Tenth Symphony’ is one of music’s great might-have-been’s, the Mahlerian overtones of its central Andante made explicit in Brian Newbould’s realization as in Draper’s sensitive interpretation.

An impressive showing, then, for the Oberon Symphony as it approaches five years of making music. And, with the Fourth Symphonies of Brahms and Vaughan Williams scheduled for the next two concerts, its future programming promises to be no less ambitious and resourceful.

Further information can be found at the orchestra’s website

Oberon Symphony Orchestra : Mahler Symphony 4 with Anousheh Bromfield

oberon-symphony

Anousheh Bromfield (soprano), Oberon Symphony Orchestra / Samuel Draper (above)

St James’s, Sussex Gardens, London. Saturday 21st January, 2017

Mozart Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!, K418 (1783); Ah sie in ciel, benigne stele, K538 (1788); Nehmt meinen Dank, K383 (1782)

Mahler Symphony No.4 in G (1892; 1899-1900)

L-R Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791); Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

The Oberon Symphony Orchestra continued its season with this pertinent juxtaposition of Mozart and Mahler. The second half was devoted to the latter composer’s Fourth Symphony, in a performance that brought out a great deal of its ethereal rapture as also its oblique irony.

Opting for a steady though never sluggish underlying tempo for the first movement, Samuel Draper (below) made much of this music’s constant eliding between affection and agitation; the latter quality to the fore during a development that built stealthily and incrementally toward its (in context) visceral climax, with the ensuing textural fragmentation then resumption of the main theme in media res tellingly done. Nor was there any lack of eloquence in the Oberon strings’ response to the blissful final pages, before a heady accelerando into the resolute closing bars.

The second movement upped the ironic ante accordingly. Draper knitted together its sardonic scherzo and ruminative trio sections with no mean subtlety, while also emphasizing the aura of malevolence – this latter abetted by leader Matt Bain’s adept switching between violins as tuned normally as well as a tone higher. No less pleasing was Draper’s unaffected approach to portamento – an expressive device only belatedly reintroduced but that, when handled so unobtrusively, adds greatly to the cohesion of this music whatever its emotional disjuncture.

If the adagio was marginally less well integrated in terms of its overall follow-through, there was little doubt as to the poise of Draper’s conception across these variations on contrasted themes in what is arguably Mahler’s most Beethovenian movement. If the slowly emerging angst seemed overtly reined-in, moreover, the breath-taking sense of the coda opening-out onto new expressive vistas was palpably conveyed; the music that follows evincing a highly personal take on the essence of serenity which was – and has remained – unique to Mahler.

Following on (rightly) attacca, the finale needs to lighten the prevailing mood without that unworldliness seeming trivial. In which respect this account succeeded admirably, whatever the occasional failings in ensemble. It helped to have a soloist who, in Anousheh Bromfield, had the measure of the vocal writing’s pert insouciance and often edgy naivete. The lengthy orchestral introduction into the final verse had an ideal lilting motion, with the closing bars not so much tapering-off into nothingness as making toward a point of unwavering stillness.

samuel-draperBefore the interval, Bromfield joined the orchestra for a selection of Mozart concert arias     as complementary as it was unexpected. There was no want of technical finesse in Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio! or Ah sie in ciel, benigne stele, though the greatest delights came with a rare outing for Nehmt meinen Dank which incidentally pointed up the unfettered melodic appeal common to Mozart’s settings in German. In each of these pieces, moreover, Draper and his players provided accompaniment of a poise and elegance necessary for this music.

Overall, another fine showing for the Oberon Symphony Orchestra – which returns on April 29th with a further notable first: the UK premiere of Enescu’s Fourth Symphony as realized by the late Pascal Bentoiu, together with shorter orchestral pieces from Bartók and Schubert.

Further information at the Oberon Symphony Orchestra website

Ask the Audience at the BBC Proms – Kulwinder Singh-Rai on the Berliner Philharmoniker & Sir Simon Rattle

Ask The Audience Arcana at the Proms
kulwinder-singh-raiThis is the latest in the series where Arcana invites a friend to a Prom who does not normally listen to classical music. In an interview after the concert each will share their musical upbringing and their thoughts on the concert – whether good or bad! Here, Kulwinder Singh-Rai (above) gives his thoughts on Prom 64.

Berliner Philharmoniker / Sir Simon Rattle

Boulez Éclat (1965); Mahler Symphony no.7 (1904-05)

You can watch this Prom on the BBC iPlayer here

Arcana: Kulwinder, what was your musical upbringing?

I listen to a lot of Bhangra music, Punjabi music and hip hop. Being born in the city of Birmingham I would experience a lot of dancehall and bashment music, but always something with a real beat to it. All the genres I’ve mentioned have got a real strong beat to their music. I listen to a lot of music in the car, so would listen to a lot of music with a beat there, and from my phone.

I grew up with what was on the radio, in houses and at parties I went to. Even when I was a student, you would hang around people who liked similar music to you. So I didn’t have much contact with classical music!

Did you have much contact with Indian classical music?

Not then, but recently one of my friends is an Indian classical musician, and I find that music very relaxing and soothing. That is something that I have appreciated, listening to music with silence in it, which is quite a new experience!

Could you name three musical acts you love, and why you love them?

That’s difficult, as it varies from day to day! It’s what with me at the time, so it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re groundbreaking. What you have is a snapshot of me now, really – in a month’s time it would be totally different stuff! Currently I would say Diljit Dosanjh, who’s pretty big in Punjabi popular music. From pop music I like Drake, because again it has a really good beat and varies a lot.

I’m trying to think of what I play in the car, although when I’m in the workplace I do play some calmer stuff. (looks at phone) I don’t play any pop music at work, especially when I’m doing reports and need something to calm me down. I just go by what I like rather than the name, and these are quite old recordings. (shows Arcana Glenn Gould plays Mozart). It’s because I need something to keep me steady at work, and I would listen to it on headphones.

What has been your experience of classical music so far?

All the famous adverts really. I’ve been to two classical concerts before, and only recently. I think this is the third, but previously I went to see a concert at the Royal Festival Hall – Messiah I think it was, with a choir, and we were really high up. It was uplifting and you were whistling tunes for the next few days at work!

How did you rate your first Proms experience?

It was good to see the crowd there, because the only other crowds I really experience are at football matches. It was a similar kind of experience in that sense, though a lot more interesting than the last match I went to! (Kulwinder is a West Bromwich Albion season ticket holder, and the last game he was an interminable goalless draw with Middlesbrough! – ed)

You have some chants and jeering there obviously, but it’s similar – the crowd gathered around, affiliation to the team – and so it was very enjoyable. I was surprised by how mixed the audience was, not all middle class – and the dress sense. The guy next to me could easily have been from a park bench! So it was a lot more accessible than I thought it would be, which was really good.

What did you think of the Boulez?

I must admit I didn’t really get into that. It finished so quickly that I can’t remember much of it. It was early in the concert and I hadn’t really acclimatised to it, and I was expecting more of a build up like you normally get. There wasn’t really time to do that, so I can’t remember a great deal. It could be that the other piece was so intense that it washed away the memory.

And the Mahler?

I thought it was very emotional, which was a good thing. I watch different things like the conductor to keep my attention, but I would say it was very convincing and I was deeply engrossed in it. If I heard it again I would have more thoughts and pictures about the story I think, but it drew you into the music and you could have drawn more into the narrative if there was a more obvious one.

I would say I felt relaxed but alert, if you know what I mean. Calm but the music was quite surprising sometimes – some of what happened in the middle I would expect to happen at the end. Normally I would expect a crash at the end and you would expect them to stop, but here it carried on.

Would you change anything about the experience?

No I don’t think so. It’s very popular, so obviously people are aware of it with the queues to get in. Maybe if they moved it around a bit, more outside of London – bringing it to other cities – it would work! Because it’s my first one I can’t think too much of that but I thought the venue was great, and the audience were great as well – very quiet and paid attention.

Would you go again?

I would definitely go again. Not having been bought up with classical music it’s all new to me, so I’m looking as a child at the different sounds and instruments. Maybe if it was some vocal music I would be more likely to go, but either / or is doable!

Verdict: SUCCESS

 

Proms premiere – Tansy Davies – Re-greening

tansy davies composer

Tansy Davies

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain – without a conductor (Prom 31)

Duration: 9 minutes

BBC iPlayer link

http://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e8r2mb

What’s the story behind the piece?

In an interview for Arcana, Tansy Davies detailed how Re-greening, written for all 164 players of the National Youth Orchestra without a conductor, is essentially an introduction to Mahler’s Symphony no.9, the piece they performed without a break afterwards.

In the interview, which can be read in full here , Davies explains how “the way the music is layered to me suggests a forest like quality; interweaving arpeggio-type figures bubbling or erupting up from the cold earth in winter, and scales or lines reaching up to the light”.

Did you know?

Before making her way as a composer, Davies sang and played guitar in a band. That was probably until she won the BBC Young Composers’ Competition in 1996!

Initial verdict

Re-greening begins with bright sounds like a forest coming to life – the opening percussion stroke, a bright, metallic sound, feels like the first sun of the day.

Then we hear the rustling of the orchestra, with harmonics from the stringed instruments and shrill woodwind that sound like the birds, sonorous brass. A song is sung by the orchestra, the popular and ancient song Sumer is icumen in, essentially a hymn that glorifies in the arrival of a new season or a new day. The chant continues, surrounded by a large orchestral sound that is used economically. The brass are prominent, Davies making great use of a big space with percussion and a huge string section.

Davies layers the sounds, so that it feels like several chords are piled up on top of each other in a full bodied texture. Then towards the end the orchestra sing again, this time a canon from English Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis, set like the earlier song in C major,. This proves an unusual and moving experience when set among the excited cacophony from the rest of the instruments.

Second hearing

tbc!

Where can I hear more?

There are a couple of excellent Tansy Davies discs in circulation, partly because her music seems to be very aware of its surroundings, i.e. it is aware of the culture – both popular and classical – in which it is written. So far she has tended towards chamber pieces that are of manageable length but considerable intensity. That much is very clear from her Troubairitz disc for Gabriel Prokofiev’s Nonclassical label, which includes the excellent Neon for chamber ensemble – and from the Spine disc for NMC, which includes the Saxophone Concerto with Simon Haram:

https://open.spotify.com/album/6RZsGqMpOm3D9Kgx3YH1l3

https://open.spotify.com/album/1lr0MOXLf5xc1nLmER9EGY

Under the Surface at the Proms – About Schmidt

Prom 73, 10 September 2015 – Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Semyon Bychkov at the Royal Albert Hall

schmidt
Semyon Bychkov conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in Schmidt at the Royal Albert Hall. Photo (c) Chris Christodoulou

Symphony no.2 in E flat major
http://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ewbfxj#b068tnhg

‘Some music has to wait before it finds its place in the sun.’

This standout quote comes from an interview in the Proms program with conductor Semyon Bychkov, who conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in this concert of two late Romantic symphonies. The work to which he referred was not BrahmsThird Symphony, which received an occasionally beautiful but ultimately rather lethargic performance in the first half, but the Second Symphony of Franz Schmidt, completed in 1913.

Schmidt’s music has only visited the Royal Albert Hall in full on two previous occasions. The Fourth Symphony, which experienced a revival when Frans Welser-Möst and the London Philharmonic Orchestra won a Gramophone Award for a recording of it in 1996, was heard at the festival in 1998. The relative success of this was followed by the massive sacred piece Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln (The Book of the Seven Seals), which followed a similar path, recorded by Welser-Most in 1996 and performed by the same conductor in 2000.

Schmidt was a wholly suitable choice of composer for the Vienna Philharmonic, who have been revisiting important works in their history this year. Unlike the Brahms third they did not give the premiere of the Schmidt, but the connections with the composer are close. He became a member of the orchestra in 1896, where he played as a cellist – though he did not get on with Gustav Mahler, conductor at the time. Bychkov has championed the Second Symphony with other orchestras, so it made sense to finally bring it to the Vienna Philharmonic. From what I could tell this was their first season performing this or any of his symphonies. So what of the piece itself?

Written on a large scale, the Second clocks in at around 50 minutes. It is in three movements, the large second movement dominating at around half the length of the piece – and it was the centrepiece here. A colourful and richly layered set of variations on a theme, it delights in exploring a number of completely contrasting moods, drawing unusual textures from the orchestra that reveal Schmidt the organ composer. A few of the variations sound uncannily like right hand keyboard figures played at speed, with amazing clarity of colour.

There were clear influences from Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Richard Strauss and Bruckner – yet the music was nothing like a copy of any of these composers. Instead Schmidt managed to stamp his own personality on the piece, shying away from obvious statements so that the mood was at times strangely elusive, on occasion reluctant to commit to emotion with obvious meaning.

It had operatic qualities, for sure, which could be felt in the ebb and flow of the drama and in the swell of the melodies – but the unusually luminous colours dominated, Schmidt using the orchestra in his own individual way. Here he wrote especially taxing parts for violins and violas, but the crowning glory was the massive brass chorale that appeared towards the end and was resolved without fuss.

Only the Proms could have presented this combination of orchestra and music, and should be congratulated for doing so. It was expertly performed and well received, and should go a long way to giving Schmidt’s music the chance of a revival it deserves. It will be interesting to come back in five years and see if anyone else has taken up the baton from Bychkov.

Want to hear more?

A playlist combining the Second and Fourth Symphonies can be heard here:

Meanwhile for the massive Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln (The Book of the Seven Seals), in a recent recording made for Chandos under conductor Kristjan Jarvi, click on the link below:

This is the last Under the Surface feature of this year’s Proms. There will be more explorations of rare repertoire on Arcana in the coming months, both through recordings and concerts. Stay tuned!