Concert Review

Stravinsky Divertimento: The Fairy's Kiss. Sorensen Piano Concerto, 'La notte'. Zemlinsky Die Seejungfrau. BBCSO/Michael Schoenwandt/Rolf Hind (piano). RFH, 28 April 2000.

A UK premiere of an important contemporary composer is always a special event - more so, in this case, when in the same concert there is also the rare chance to hear an extended orchestral tone-poem as part of the ongoing rediscovery of Zemlinsky's music. The link between all three pieces was Hans Christian Andersen - an unavoidable influence on every Dane, and the inspiration for both the Stravinsky ('The Ice Maiden') and the Zemlinsky ('The Little Mermaid').

Sorensen (a Norgard pupil) and Hind were articulate in their pre-concert discussion of the new piece with Jonathan Cross, whether it was regarding the semantic weight of the subtitle (the cross-reference being to Vivaldi's concertos known as 'La notte') or the many orchestral subtleties. The Vivaldi connection becomes closer when one takes Sorensen's many light textures into account. Sorensen refers to this piece as less a piano concerto, more an orchestral piece with a piano in it, and it's certainly true that this is a long way from any Romantic conception of soloist as protagonist. At the beginning, the high, ghost-like material presented by the piano against super-high fluttering violins is taken and elaborated upon by the orchestra. Everything seems to be in spectral half-lights which make the sudden outbursts all the more effective. The pianist is called upon to pluck the strings inside the piano as well as to playing in the traditional manner, a most effective gesture. Hind seemed to have completely digested Sorensen's world, and the BBCSO responded intimately to his every move.

Zemlinsky's 'Die Seejungfrau' ('The Mermaid') was a treat. Written in 1904, it shared its 1905 premiere with Schoenberg's 'Pelleas und Melisande'. Its first modern performance was not until 1984. Zemlinsky's imagination is astonishingly fertile, his orchestration consistently sparkling and delightful. The BBCSO had enjoyed the luxurious long-breathed melodies and Schonwandt's pacing of the score made the climaxes appear entirely natural. A special mention must go to the string principals, who responded so wholeheartedly to the chamber music texture of their solos. These same soloists had an opportunity to shine in Stravinsky's 'The Fairy's Kiss', which married delicacy with echt-Stravinskian spikiness.

There are two recommendable versions of the Zemlinsky: - James Conlon and the Gurzenreich Orchestra add the Sinfonietta, Op. 23 (EMI CDC5 55515-2), whilst Chailly and the Berlin RSO link it with Psalms XIII and XXIII (Decca 444 969-2). Sorensen is recorded on the Danacord label coupled with a related piece - the Violin Concerto, 'Sterbende Garten', on 8 224039.

Colin Clarke

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