Review: BBC NOW - Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony @ SDH
After missing two of their main concerts this season, I finally got to attend a performance of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. I have been an avid attendee at their concerts for several years. I can at times forget just how good they really are.
I arrived in the hall and it appeared half-empty, much to my disappointment. I could only assume this was because of the daring choice of the last work of the evening - Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony.
The first piece was Wagner's Prelude To Act One of his opera Lohengrin. As a teenager, I was a diehard Wagner fan. But this particular prelude never did anything for me at the time. But I can get over that fact, since now I find it one of his most tender starts to an opera with a pure sense of ecstasy.
The orchestra pulled and gently scooped out the graceful notes with such a quietness and tenderness, I could hear my breath at times. The choice of this prelude is also a nice taster for Welsh National Opera, who will be doing the opera next year... all four hours of it. But I will, of course, be going to see it!
Next was Brahms and his ever-popular Violin Concerto, played by Viviane Hagner. Her playing was technically superb, at times was musically insightful and had an approach to the instrument I think I have never seen before in a player. Her dress boarded on a silk gown for bedtime and she played on a Stradivarius, no less. She is a player I have seen before and sincerely hope to hear again soon.
The evening concluded with the aforementioned Lyric Symphony by Alexander Zemlinsky. It is always good to hear lesser-known composers and the BBC NOW are bold enough to do this on occasions. It seems some people are ignorant and won't try out composers that aren't saturated in frequent concert programmes. It's a gamble and fun as well to not know what to expect.
I was amazed at just how much it was like listening to Mahler, more specifically his song cycle The Song Of The Earth (an impressive work, listen to the last movement if you can). Both pieces require one male singer and one female singer, who both take it in turns to sing each song. I knew instantly the audience would take a dislike to such a work and I'm sure at least one person walked out. Bewilderment came over me whilst listening and one girl in the row in front of me turned to her friend, raised her arms slightly and scrunched up her fingers in frustration. But I just couldn't get over the whole copycat mentality of the piece.
Granted Mahler's influence is still seen today in new classical music, but there are limits. An interesting note is that Zemlinsky had a relationship with Alma Schindler, later to be Mahler's wife but married the sister of Arnold Schoenberg, the master of modern classical music, who causes great debate even to this day about the shift in the way music has gone atonal. A flower for the poster of the concert seemed strange as the work was listed as the focus, but the work was anything but fragile, even in the female singing and movements.
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales have plenty of concerts lined up and I hope to see them and I would persuade you to do the same. As always a pleasure.