Dora Pejačević (1885-1923)

Friday, October 6, 2023

Barbican Hall, London

During this year’s Proms season Sakari Oramo conducted outstanding performances of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony,, followed by the Third, He now has a hat-trick of memorable Mahler readings in just a couple of months with this Fifth Symphony that opened with a commanding trumpet solo from Philip Cobb cueing a first movement funeral march both desolate (bitter tears) and emotionally explosive, stormily reciprocated in the next movement contrasted with recesses of remembrance; complex feelings made the more so by Oramo’s unvarnished approach and the BBCSO’s unshakeable playing. Similarly a measured approach to the Scherzo gave it greater consequence than can be the case, with pizzicatos more macabre and flare-ups made intrinsic to the whole, plus ripe horn contributions from Nicholas Korth. The strings-and-harp Adagietto was rapturous, tender and flexible, beautifully played, and it entered into a Finale of buoyancy, sleights of hand, a crowning chorale (introduced as a marker in the second movement) and a joyous light-emitting coda.

The season started with Ligeti’s early Concert Românesc, a folk-music-inspired score of suggestion, poetic expression, energetic flings, twilight exchanges by horns across valleys, and a final section of frenetic hullabaloo, a bring-a-bottle party – all performed here with sensitivity and scintillation. Following which Oramo continued to champion the music of Dora Pejačević as he did most recently at the Proms,, on this occasion with her Phantasie concertante (1919; UK premiere) featuring Alexandra Dariescu as the pianist required to be brilliant. No sooner had it started than I was thinking of Charles Williams’s The Dream of Olwen (written a couple of decades later), although the Pejačević is more substantial, rhapsodic and edgier, with a demanding cadenza that came across as cumulative as part of an engaging piece.