Joseph Davies

Friday, January 28, 2022

BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff

Save for a few masked supporters, this without-audience matinee concert was beamed live and found Ryan Bancroft (BBCNOW, and Stockholm Philharmonic, conducting two of Sibelius’s greatest works. Tapiola was initially a little short on edge, the landscape not as forbidding – as cold – as it can be, although a sense of mystery prevailed, Bancroft and his players developing unholy sprites of sound and conjuring inhospitable images, the tempo slowing to really underline trepidation, an uncalm before the elements are released, and then the suggestion that troubled night is becoming sunlit day. Ultimately, an engrossing account.

As for Joseph Davies’s thirty-minute Parallax, the first movement is vibrant and colourful, with (to my ears anyway) allusions to other composers’ pieces, the music moving along if somewhat repetitively, and a cadenza only served to halt progress. The intense slow movement, with Eastern influences and a strident climax, held greater thrall; and what I take to be the Finale (attacca anyway) is an elaborate intertwining between violin and orchestra (too much percussion, maybe) that reaches a glowing resolution before a rapid envoi into the ether. If I’m not sure about the music across its whole span, which certainly had its here-and-there attractions, the performance was obviously very fine, Daniel Pioro excelling.

Then back to Sibelius, his Fourth Symphony, music difficult to follow with anything else – it certainly was for Paavo Berglund who always put a concert’s other pieces in the first half, even if it was Bruckner Seven or Shostakovich Five. Bancroft gave space to the first movement (described years ago by Robert Simpson at a talk as a “sinister Clapham Junction”, really establishing the music’s black brooding, loneliness and claustrophobia, Sibelius living under the shadow of recent throat cancer and also with financial problems. Following a second movement, airy and filigree at first before turning to its dark side, the Il tempo largo third was bleak, Bancroft sustaining a suitably spacious tempo. The Finale (with glockenspiel rather than tubular bells) had momentum, going places if heading to catastrophe, an emotional crossroads, uncompromising here, and into the no-way-out conclusion, the secret of which is to keep the tempo undeviating, no rits, so that the music stops rather than finishes … Bancroft didn’t quite do this.