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S & H Concert Review

Corigliano, Glazunov, Prokofiev Vadim Repim (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin. Barbican Hall, Tuesday May 20th, 2003 (CC)



John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra (2000, and here receiving its UK premiere) provided an interesting first half to this concert. Corigliano’s music is still not accorded the recognition in the UK it enjoys in the US, and Slatkin is to be congratulated on his advocacy.

The Second Symphony is actually an expansion of Corigliano’s String Quartet of 1996, written for the farewell tour of the Cleveland Quartet. In one sense, therefore, it sidesteps the ‘problem’ of Corigliano the symphonist (he once stated that he would ‘never write a symphony’, only the AIDS pandemic prompting him to use the large canvas in his Symphony No. 1). The Second Symphony’s forty-odd minutes duration marks it out as a substantive statement. It maintains the interest over this span and shows an active imagination at work.

All credit to the BBCSO, then, who obviously prepared this carefully (the level of accuracy in the second movement Scherzo was astonishing). The opening Prelude begins in the manner of so many contemporary compositions: fragments emerge in and out of silence. Corigliano, however, when he reaches an arrival point, makes it a consonant one, which in the present instance came across as contrived rather than moving.

There was a beautiful sense of peace in the Nocturne (intended to invoke the serenity of a Moroccan night), which led to a tortured climax. Coriglaino’s use of Lutoslawski-like controlled aleatorism (and, with it, Lutoslawski-like scurrying strings) in the Fugue was interesting but not wholly involving. Better that, though, than the saccharine sweetness of the Postlude.

Vadim Repin was the superb soloist in Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, Op. 82 (1904). This is a work that was championed by Heifetz, no less, who made the work shine. So did Repin, a player who sees no technical difficulties in the piece whatsoever. The cadenza was marvellously sustained. Right from the sonorous opening melody, though, it was obvious that we were in the presence of a master, entirely at home with Glazunov’s easy lyricism, but similarly possessed of a tensile strength that gave the performance a gripping underlying inner intensity. Lyrical outpourings were unashamedly presented, while fun became the paramount parameter in the sparkly finale. This was a remarkable performance of a work that deserves more frequent airing.

In many ways it was the highlight of the concert. That it did not entirely eclipse Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony (slightly less well attended – all the violinists in the audience left en masse after the Glazunov) was testament to the dedication of the BBCSO and Slatkin. They emphasised the Romantic side of the Moderato first movement, the strings playing with a powerful legato, and it was this Romantic side which surfaced again in the finale. A few minor disturbances in the inner movements aside (the second not quite abandoned enough; the third with some scrappy wind playing), this was an impressive achievement which crowned a varied and stimulating concert.

Colin Clarke





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