Seen and Heard Concert
Cresswell, Grieg, Rachmaninov:
Andreas Haefliger (piano), BBC Symphony Orchestra/David Porcelijn,
Barbican Hall, 29 April, 2005 (CC)
Lyell Cresswell, a New Zealander with strong links to Scotland
where he is now resident, was recipient of the 2003 Elgar Bursary
(the first, in fact, of its kind). The Bursary uses royalties
from Anthony Payne's elaboration of Elgar's Third Symphony sketches
to support the work of mature composers (i.e. over 29).
Cresswel was born in 1944. This was the World Premiere of his
piece, Ara Kopokopiko (the Maori word for labyrinth).
Cresswell omits percussion, using other orchestrational means
to simulate the percussion section's usual functions.To 'guide'
his listeners, Cresswell provides four threads, which he labels
A, B, C and D in his note to the work; each has a distinct character
(although A and D are fairly obviously related). The form of the
work is ABCDCABCDACADACBADBD, for what it is worth.
Which is, I have to report, not a lot. First, the positives. Cresswell
has an acute ear for orchestration, not only the atmospheric open
octaves of the opening (flutes and – I assume – deliberately
awkward low writing for horns) or the Britten-like flute-violin
unison lines (think Grimes), but also the way his penchant
for abrupt juxtapositions of orchestral groups sounds unfailingly
'right'. However, even six minutes in I was asking how on earth
this piece was going to last the BBC-predicted 22 minutes. The
answer is fairly easy. As the work progressed, it became impossible
to get the idea of a procession of not-too-demanding themes out
of my mind (a sort of 'Endless Parade' but without the Birtwistle).
And the 'ABCD' units could have come in almost any order.
More familiar ground with Grieg's Piano Concerto followed. Except
it was not too familiar, thanks to Andreas Haefliger's imagination.
Previously Haefliger had not over-impressed live due to a hesitant
beginning to the Ravel G major Concerto (see: concert with LSO
But this was like a new pianist. Haefliger seemed to be discovering
the wonder of Grieg's war-horse for the first time – a critical
cliché, I know, but an apt one here. From the easy fluency
of the opening flourishes to the playful side of Grieg's persona
this was pure delight. More, Haefliger seemed intent on emphasizing
the Lisztian elements to the work, yet he kept them entirely within
the orbit of Grieg. In the cadenza, Haefliger took real risks
– and very exciting it was, too. He seemed almost to improvise
the slow movement, and he positively reveled in the dance-like
halling-rhythms of the finale. This was a whole new pianist,
and I for one await further developments of this young artist.
The BBCSO and Porcelijn accompanied sensitively throughout.
Finally, Rachmaninov's Third Symphony (A minor, Op. 44, 1935/6).
Porcelijn very definitely has the measure of this piece, bringing
out the raw scoring of parts of the main body of the first movement
to memorable effect, and contrasting that with the refulgence
of the echt-Rachmaninov lyric cello theme. The percussion-laden
climax made its mark naturally. The slow movement included a fair
amount of light while the interesting scoring of the Scherzo was
highlighted (incidentally, the metric modulations between slow
movement – scherzo and back again were perfectly judged).
It was no small achievement that Porcelijn avoided any trace of
bombast in the finale, closing in a blaze of colour.
We need to see more of Porcelijn in the UK, of that there now
appears little doubt.
Cresswell: Anake etc. NMCD 077.