Countess Maria Theodora Paulina Pejačević (1885-1923)

Friday, November 26, 2021

Barbican Hall, London

Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto became Beethoven’s (Vilde Frang remaining as soloist) and his Egmont Overture also fell off the menu. No reason was given for the changes save for an unhelpful “it wasn’t possible” regarding the expected Concerto.

To introduce the Beethoven, Sakari Oramo set a brisk, quite martial, tempo to which Frang was clearly content, playing with accuracy and poise, the first movement quick-stepping along without compromising expression, flexibility or detailing. Just occasionally though there was a feeling of rush, that the music’s contours demand a little extra time to reveal more fully their shape, and it wasn’t until the cadenza (Fritz Kreisler’s I think, or something based upon it) that meditation was encountered, a state that set the slow movement up nicely; intimate, tender. By contrast, the Finale was a feisty affair, Frang exaggerating some notes (as rural fiddler), Oramo highlighting trumpet interjections a little too prominently. Overall, despite the performers’ expertise and meshing, there was a dimension missing from this performance.

Frang’s encore sprang from Haydn, Kreisler’s arrangement of the ‘Emperor’s Hymn’ (from String Quartet, Opus 76/3), aka the Austrian National Anthem, solemn, then rising in intensity.

Dora Pejačević was born in Budapest into a noble family, to a Hungarian mother and a Croatian father. Her Symphony in F-sharp minor (Opus 41, a World War I piece, composed during 1916 & 17) is in four movements. The opening is dramatically arresting, following which the music never quite settles key-wise, structurally or emotionally, although there’s no doubting the composer’s capacity for invention, or her passions and sincerity. If the first movement meanders, the slow second (woodwind-rich, including cor anglais and bass clarinet) – rather desolate, regretful – draws the listener in through its poignancy and its painterly qualities. There follows a bracing Scherzo, given to dancing and quirkiness, adding percussion, aside from timpani, for the first time. The Finale strides heroically, but the lyrical second subject can’t make itself memorable, although it tries hard, but there is plenty of goal-directed energy, carried by flamboyant scoring to a stirring ending, the BBCSO and Oramo dedicatedly steering this forty-five-minute Symphony into our consciousness … and Chandos recording sessions next week, which will also embrace Pejačević’s Piano Concerto with Peter Donohoe.