Faust (violin); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Kazuki Yamada. Barbican Hall,
London, Friday, March 4th 2011 (CC)
Takemitsu Requiem for
String Orchestra (1957)
Larcher Violin Concerto (2008/9) UK
Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27 (1906/7)
Stimulating programming does not automatically lead to
stimulating listening, as this evening proved in no uncertain terms.
On paper, the combination of a UK premiere, some Takemitsu conducted
by a Japanese conductor and Rachmaninov's stirring Second
intriguing, and had the distinct potential to be a winner.
Kazuki Yamada, winner of the 2009 Besançon conducting
competition, is a bright and clearly eager young man who was here
making his London debut. Yamada is to be Principal Guest Conductor
of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande from the 2012/13 season. He
daringly chose to open with a work that would test the BBCSO strings
- Takemitsu's early Requiem (the
composer's first large-scale composition, in fact). The piece
features long, aching melodies for the first violins. On the
credit side, the BBC violins were laudably together;
on the debit side, the sound was painfully thin, robbing the
drooping, melancholy lines of their essence. A better string
section, with a more integrated sound than was on offer here, would
have made much more of this brief (ten-minute) offering.
I have been impressed by Thomas Larcher's music
before, notably an ECM release of Madhares (actually
the title of Larcher's Third String Quartet of
2006/7), a disc that also includes a marvellous performance by Kim
Kashkashian of Larcher's 2002 piece Still (in
a 2004 revision). There is a MusicWeb review
by Gavin Dixon http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2010/July10/Larcher_ECM2111.htm.
Gavin is right to assert that Larcher is difficult to place in terms
of composition "schools", although in terms of sound world he is
certainly perfectly placed on ECM, where his modern but not too
harsh sound world seems almost written to order. Here was the UK
premiere of the Violin Concerto (no subtitle). The scoring is
interesting, as it includes a kalimba (an African thumb piano). He
is unafraid of tonal constructs, too - it is an unashamed E-Minor
triad that forms the meat of the violin's opening musings; the work
emerges gradually out of silence.
Larcher could not have asked for a more ardent advocate than the
excellent Isabelle Faust. The piece clearly requires great stamina
from the soloist, and Faust was absolutely rock solid throughout.
Aggression finds a place in this music, and Yamada ensured that the
orchestra were not only vehement in their reaction but rhythmically
on the ball, too. Technically, he is all one could ask, and that
stood him in good stead here. Larcher has melodies strive to gain
expression, foiling their efforts at the last moment. The second
movement had its own organic growth within its identifiably
post-Romantic language; jagged interruptions, which had also found a
place in the first movement, provided the structural hurdles.
Larcher's ear for sonority is confident and results in many a
fascinating timbral mix. It is probably my personality type that
causes me to wish for more to get my teeth into - Takemitsu is an
acknowledged influence on Larcher, and it is an audible one here
(hence the programming, of course).