Thursday, November 17, 2022
Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London
The concert opened with the bright tones of Judith Weir’s Heroic Strokes of the Bow, after artwork by Paul Klee, energetic and rhythmic music, with a lyrical centre, for which Martyn Brabbins secured precise and expressive playing. Following which was Sesquialtera, composed “by RCM Concerto Competition winner Anian Wiedner, this symphonic work has a prominent role for the organ; its title, Sesquialtera, derives from the name of a ‘mixture’ organ stop.” The organ is an orchestral colour in a piece that starts ethereally and continues in that vein while suggesting itself as sci-fi filmic, the chilliest realms of Outer Space evoked and also capable of glowering climaxes. The going-places Daniel Hogan (see below) conducted a focussed premiere.
Also suspenseful and vivid, sporting the largest ensemble of the evening, was Shostakovich’s G-minor Symphony No.11 (The Year 1905; Opus 103) composed in 1957 to describe events during the first Russian Revolution: graphic music, icy and ominous, savage, lamenting, and, paving the way for 1917, signalling the people’s success to come. As descriptive as the music is, it is also a Symphony and Brabbins underlined the continuity of the work without diluting its cinematic element, drawing committed and well-prepared playing from the talented students – such as when the Tsar’s troops advance on the protesting crowds (second movement, ‘The Ninth of January’), the hushed and melancholic violas in the third (‘Memory Eternal’) or the eloquent cor anglais solo towards the end of the bell-capped Finale. Brabbins (music director of English National Opera, a company in the news at present because of Arts Council funding) secured an impressive sixty-two-minute account (midway between the extremes of Kondrashin’s Moscow recording and Rostropovich’s LSO Live version), and if the relayed sound was somewhat indifferent there was no doubting the great piece that is Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony.