Photo, Mark Allan

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

Slotted into the schedule after the Proms Guide was published, the touring Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra (comprising musicians based in the country with dispensation to leave for the UFO’s travels, or refugees from it, and those who are already members of European ensembles) opened this morning concert with Valentin Silvestrov’s Seventh Symphony. Silvestrov (born 1937) – who was able to flee Ukraine when Russia invaded and now lives in Berlin – casts No.7 (2003) in a single twenty-minute movement. It opens in angst-ridden terms, music of shadows and suspense, if luminously scored, and an immediate introduction to the excellent qualities of the UFO conducted by its founder Keri-Lynn Wilson (Canadian-Ukrainian), all digging deep into the soulful expression of this music, its simmering changeability and (given to a piano) melodious song. Just how symphonic No.7 is can be taken as a moot point, but played from the heart, as it was here, the music holds the attention: not much happens (which made coughing and noises-off all the more noticeable) but it speaks volumes about how a minimal palette of ideas and colours can communicate meaningfully. If, to close the concert, Brahms’s Fourth Symphony offered little that was individual, it doesn’t matter, for it was a perfectly good and decently played performance, straightforward and sincere, coming into its own in the Finale, impassioned and certainly “defiant”; for Karajan the ending is “tragic” (that’s just as pertinent), alongside Mahler Six, Sibelius Four and Tchaikovsky Six.

Both soloists are Ukrainian. Anna Fedorova (a Royal College of Music graduate) played Chopin’s F-minor Piano Concerto (No.2), a free-flowing, spontaneous account attentively accompanied, and when the pianist put the brakes on, not least in the first movement, it might have been thought indulgent; it was also affecting, and so the Larghetto was especially poetic and painterly, time-taken and bathed in moonlight if not without dramatic intervention, the UFO doing its bit. The Finale also had an ink-still-wet character – dancing in the streets – if allowing reflection (clarinets had a quiet moment to themselves), and the coda, cued by a horn-call, it’s second half taken at double the speed to dovetail nicely into Fedorova’s fleet fingers, a scintillating envoi. (An encore would have been welcome and deserved.) Then Liudmyla Monastyrska, as Leonore, offered an aria (‘Abscheulicher!’ translated by Wilson as “monster” and directed to Putin) from Beethoven’s Fidelio, which Monastyrska sung with intensity and unflinching vividness, complemented by some confident horn contributions.

Following the Brahms, this without-interval matinee ended with the Ukrainian National Anthem, gently arranged.

New BBC Arts film tells the story of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra: formed against the backdrop of war.

Lincoln Center to Host Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra.


Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine & National Youth Orchestra of Germany – concert in Berlin conducted by Artem Lonhinov – Beethoven, Lyatoshynsky, Dvořák [live Digital Concert Hall webcast].