Review: BBC NOW - LutosÅ‚awski's Concerto For Orchestra @ Hoddinott Hall
My relationship with BBC NOW goes back ten years. I have in the past, phoned up and recommended pieces of music, hoping that they could be performed by the orchestra. I thought these calls had fallen on deaf ears.
If I recall correctly, the Polish composer Witold LutosÅ‚awski's Concerto For Orchestra was on my list. Could my recommendation be the reason why this work had been performed? It is the centenary of LutosÅ‚awskis birth this year, but I've rarely heard his compositions live. But I have heard his Chain 2, a violin concerto and Chain 3 for orchestra. He apparently never composed an opera, as he couldn't see why people had to sing, instead of talk.
The concert commenced with his fellow countryman, Panufnik (who's centenary is next year as well) and his work, the KatyÅ„ Epitaph. It began and ended with an immensely quiet solo for the violin. The leader of the orchestra, Lesley Hatfield kept a firm hold on the playing, as the rest of the instruments soon arrived into the music. It was a solemn piece and put me in mind of another great Polish composer GÃ³recki and the Estonian Arvo PÃ¤rt. By saying those names, it can then border on the sacred minimalism that is so often discussed and highly praised in musical circles today. It felt like being on top of a Polish mountain. Mist enshrouds you and you don't know when you're going to get down.
We were treated to two concertos for the evening, with no less than three soloist. The first was Britten's Double Concerto with Antony Walker on violin and Lawrence Power on viola. If your wondering what exactly is a viola, it basically a slightly larger violin with darker tones and moods. You will always find them next to the cello in the strings of an orchestra. Sometimes they are where the cello players sit, so you can differentiate between the violins and violas.
This is Britten on top form. His love of Suffolk and old folk songs are breathed new life in this work. Both soloists brought up many great techniques and deliveries in the playing. How they would both bend their back slightly in unison, making both instruments sound like one larger one. The mood of the piece was particularly chipper and had tense rhythms near the end. It sounded like one of his best concertos. I'll have a firm answer on that, once I hear more. Like with so many musical celebrations this year (Britten was born in 1913), I'm bound to hear more of Britten's work...
In the second half, we were witness to even more fantastic music. The second concerto was by Hisatada Otaka, who was the father of our maestro for the evening, the great Tadaaki Otaka. His Flute Concerto played by Adam Walker, evoked a glorious spring day, something that we have been deprived of recently. It's breeze and easy listening nature did have a thin vein of Japanese music in it. Not to the extent of it being recognisably so. It was an honour to hear the music of a father, conducted by his son. Tadaaki sure can conduct a concert. He hasn't shied away from great works with his time here. Mahler, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and others, he has chosen their largest and longest works, much to the praise of the audiences afterwards.
To end the evening, we had the already mentioned Concerto For Orchestra. This sounds like one of LutosÅ‚awski's greatest works and makes for great listening hearing it live. Having had a CD from one classical label, which had highlights of a range of different compositions, the first movement of this was featured. I certainly haven't heard anything quite like it. It had ranges and dynamic tendencies that would keep an audience highly engrossed. It's powerful and surprising. It's miles better than BartÃ³k's more famous Concerto For Orchestra.
The tuneful opening notes are wildly atmospheric, yet have stayed in my head for days after. The large gong that was used for the end of the first movement had tremendous power and where we were sitting was perfect. The sound of the gong reverberated and landed directly on our ears on the far left of the auditorium, as it ploughed through the walls. I didn't have far to go since we were more-or-less in line with it.
As a concerto for orchestra should be, it incorporates all of the instruments and they all get their chance to shine, be it the strings, woodwind, brass or my favourite, percussion. The other two moments had many great moments and flamboyant marks in them. The last part had quite a few build-ups and anti-climaxes. The whole orchestra delivering this frantic and blazing music. It caused a hairs-standing-on-the-back-of-the-neck type of reactions; something that I love.
This is one of the best concerts I've been to for a long time. I hope BBC NOW will play more LutosÅ‚awski. The Concerto For Orchestra must be performed in Saint David's Hall in the main programme, next time round.
It's worthy of such a billing.
IMAGE: Karol Langner/Wikimedia Commons