Alice Mary Smith (1839-1884)

Friday, December 1, 2023

Barbican Hall, London

Sakari Oramo has conducted the ‘Eroica’ twice before In London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra: in January 2014 alongside Robert Schumann and a Colin Matthews premiere, and during the short season of lockdown BBC Proms in 2020. This Barbican account embraced a fiery, hard-hitting and lyrically bountiful first movement (exposition repeat observed), played freshly, Oramo driving the music to purpose above and beyond speed for its own sake; a ‘Funeral March’ flowing, dignified and intense, timpani to the fore; a Scherzo bouncy and pointed with a Trio of light and shade featuring debonair horns; and a Finale of variegation to illustrate its twists and turns, embracing country-dance vitality and proud processional, including a tiny if teasing divergence that might reflect recent scholarship or be an Oramo fancy, leading to a coda both stoical and exhilarating.

The concert opened with Alice Mary Smith’s Jason, or The Argonauts and the Sirens, Greek Legend as Concert Overture, a placid opening becoming stormy (with strong correspondences to Wagner’s Flying Dutchman) followed by a mix of warm characterisation and rough-sea adventure that are further indebted to Wagner, presumably consciously given Smith’s blatancy. Then Ravel’s ravishing and pictorial Shéhérazade, with Jennifer Johnston, the odd off-pitch and shrill note aside, voice-painting Tristan Klingsor’s evocative texts with wonder and voluptuousness, the BBCSO subtle and vivid, as required, flautist Michael Cox gracing the second song.