L-R: Sally, Catrin, Ariane; photo, Chris Christodoulou

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

Ravel’s early if posthumously published ouverture de féerie (not to be confused with his Shéhérazade song-cycle) was broadcast on Radio 3 just a couple of days ago. Its thunder stolen by so doing (and it was pure chance that I switched on), yet Ariane Matiakh found some in the occasional crude fortissimos, cannon-shot bass drum strokes and edgy trumpets, although for the most part the music’s Impressionism was well-handled, even if greater subtlety and refinement would have been welcome to perhaps persuade that this piece is less ramshackle and miscalculated than it appeared on this occasion, yet it does have a wonderful moment of rapture.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is rarely in my ears for all its stellar story-telling invention and brilliant orchestration, and then with conductors such as Celibidache and Kondrashin and with undimmed memories of a Svetlanov LSO concert (forty-plus years ago) and a recent Mehta webcast, https://www.classicalsource.com/concert/berliner-philharmoniker-zubin-mehta-conducts-integrales-scheherazade-martin-grubinger-plays-peter-eotvoss-speaking-drums-live-webcast/. From Matiakh the stentorian trombones at the opening did not bode well, and indeed some of the projection was blatant (the instruments of Rimsky’s time could not have achieved these current X-rated volumes) amidst a well-conceived performance that was played with enthusiasm and featured characterful solos, not least from oboe and Lesley Hatfield’s violin, and with a fine clarinet serenading the Prince and Princess, artlessly turned.

As centrepiece the premiere of Sally Beamish’s twenty-five-minute Hive [BBC co-commission] for harp and orchestra with Catrin Finch strumming on an electro-acoustic instrument, describing a year in the life of bees, Autumn to Winter, tinkly and picturesque, colourful and dramatic, imaginatively scored for descriptive purposes, if not wholly engaging despite an impressive first rendition, especially from Finch. Maybe Hive should play continuously rather than being in four seasonal movements.