Nicole Lizée (born 1973)

Friday, July 29, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

The danger about programming certain pieces of music often is that they become too ‘everyday’, lose their shine, and get taken for granted. One such is Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony (and including Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto, sometimes shorn of its No.1 designation, almost in a wilful denial, or in ignorance, that there are two others, and Elgar’s Cello Concerto). Something out of the ordinary was needed for the Shostakovich on this occasion. It didn’t quite get it, lacking biting identification with compositional circumstances, such as found on Maxim Shostakovich’s first recording, the Soviet one, the composer’s son needing no script – the reply to “just criticism”, the forced rejoicing – even if Alpesh Chauhan’s is a well-judged musical realisation that ultimately was ‘another’ performance, albeit the slow movement was of intense lamenting and a wide dynamic range hypnotically sustained throughout a broad tempo. As for the Symphony’s robotic message-carrying ending, Chauhan went for a generalised bigness (if nowhere near Kurt Masur’s implacable tread) and then introduced the ‘usual’ rallentando on the final page … unlike Fedoseyev, please see below.

As centrepiece was the expansive and eloquent Adagio from Bruckner’s two-viola String Quintet, which sits well in the transcription for string orchestra (including basses) made by Stanisław Skrowaczewski (who died in 2017 aged 93), a distinguished conductor especially admired for his Bruckner interpretations (such as, who, as it happens, quite a few moons ago, paired this Adagio with Shostakovich One as part of an LPO/RFH concert. Chauhan and the BBC Scottish strings turned in a sympathetic account assuredly tracing the lyrical opulence to an impassioned climax and closing serenity.

Opening the concert was the European premiere of Nicole Lizée’s Blurr is the Colour of My True Love’s Eyes [BBC co-commission], a percussion concerto for Colin Currie, autobiographical of the composer’s days being at home surrounded by her father’s electronic paraphernalia (reflected in the scoring to represent buzzing, clicking, hissing, valves heating up, equipment winding down, and going wrong), an inventive, subtle, multi-layered piece that keeps Currie busy and on the move (six “stations” to visit) with a constantly changing orchestral mosaic-like complement that also keeps the ear interested, intrigued and beguiled; indeed soloist and orchestra rely on each other and seem inseparable during this thirty-three-minute piece of attractive detail and incident (including vocals and whistling) that meshes all the components as one and also highlights them. Keen to listen again.

(But why not take the interval now while Currie’s percussion was removed, then Bruckner and Shostakovich would have made contrasting bedfellows…?)

How to best end Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony?