Tebogo Monnakgotla (born 1972)

Friday, December 8, 2023

Barbican Hall, London

Following last Friday’s ‘Eroica’ with this conductor and orchestra, a week later two further great examples of the Symphony genre, Sibelius’s final two (Opuses 104 & 105), Sakari Oramo once again demonstrating his seasoned prowess with his countryman’s music. Rapt and deeply expressive counterpoint introduced the Sixth – cool and introspective at the outset, then stepping out crisply (footprints in snow) if, throughout, not without passions and enigmas, at once lucid from Oramo yet tantalisingly leaving something new to be revealed next time – one definition of a masterpiece from the profoundest recesses of a composer’s creativity, this particular work not lacking animation if not obviously heart-on-sleeve, a sensibility that doesn’t seek an ovation, rather a space for reflection or, as here, a pregnant silence emerging from the quiet ending with which to go straight into Symphony Seven, a single movement of symphonic ingredients welded into a concentrated whole, given with largesse by Oramo, the music’s course assured, yet with a sense of new discovery, the BBCSO (leader Stephen Bryant) in top form, with another silence to welcome the sighting of Sibelius’s searched-for-and-found C-major harbour.

Opening the concert was Carl Nielsen’s Imaginary Journey to the Faroes, the dawn-like first pages full of expectation, characteristic pulsations and woodwind & brass skirmishes suggested busyness, then came the pride of a full-sail navigation to the islands, greeted on arrival by an exuberant dance, and rounded by some post-party slumber, all given a fine and sympathetic performance, followed by Tebogo Monnakgotla’s Globe Skimmer Surfing the Somali Jet (BBC/Royal Stockholm Philharmonic co-commission; UK premiere), a Violin Concerto for Johan Dalene, the solo instrument representing the dragonfly of the title. It’s an impressionistic and iridescent score (sometimes reminding of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto) that holds the attention over its twenty-five continuous minutes in terms of colour, invention and suggestion, the violin embedded within the variegated orchestra, Dalene superb with the tailor-made writing heard as integral to the chameleon-like activity, rendered with clarity and subtlety by the BBCSO, of what is a fantastical work of stature. As an encore Dalene offered Fritz Kreisler’s Recitativo & Scherzo (dedicated to Ysaÿe) in masterly fashion – technical challenges overcome, music made.