Bookending two contemporary French works (including one UK première) with familiar fare, this was definitely a concert of two halves. As with last week’s concert, the BBC Symphony Orchestra excelled in the more recent repertoire, giving dazzling performances of Gérard Pesson’s Ravel à son âme and Dalbavie’s Flute Concerto. Although Bolero brought the concert to a rousing close, Beethoven’s Symphony no. 4 opened the evening on a shaky note.
In the programme for Bizet’s Carmen, Kasper Holten (Director of Opera at ROH) remarks that the title character is a mysterious figure, and that “we can never really know who she is”. This seemed ironic: even at the end of the opera, I was not left with a clear idea of which aspects of this complex character (or, indeed, of Don José) this production wanted to bring out.
Although both works have the goal of E major in common, the final destinations of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Mahler’s Symphony no. 4 couldn’t be more different. The radiant, effervescent culmination of the former is far from the transcendental purity gained as the latter fades to its close. Led by Tugan Sokhiev, the Philharmonia’s performances of the two pieces were also varied. After some fairly unremarkable Mendelssohn, the Mahler saw more life from both orchestra and conductor.
The music of Beethoven is close to the hearts of the Oxford Philomusica. A series of Beethoven concerts established the orchestra in Oxford 15 years ago, and they returned to the composer’s music to mark their 10th anniversary. Marking the midway point in the Philomusica’s current Beethoven Festival, this concert paired Beethoven’s two F major symphonies (numbers 6 and 8) alongside his Second Piano Concerto, in B flat – repertoire spanning a period of over two decades.
The Carducci Quartet’s appearance in the Holywell Music Room marked the halfway point in the Oxford Coffee Concert’s Autumn series. This late-morning concert saw the ensemble pair two D major quartets, from 1781 and 1949. It was the latter which received the more convincing performance, with the quartet clearly more engaged with Shostakovich’s troubled utterance than Haydn’s lean textures.
After Renée Fleming was forced to withdraw due to a family emergency, soprano Sylvia Schwartz stepped in to perform with the Oxford Philomusica on the way to the Vienna Staatsoper. At just two days’ notice, Korngold, Zandonai and Leoncavallo were traded for Puccini, Verdi and Lehár. Although the concert was a sell-out with a long waiting list, many had chosen to refund their tickets. For those who chose to attend, the concert offered an opportunity to see a rising star in a repertoire ranging from 1780–1933.
Saturday saw the BBC Symphony Orchestra open their 2013/14 season with an evening of firsts. Not only was this Sakari Oramo’s first Barbican season concert as Chief Conductor, but the programme placed a première by leading “spectral” composer Tristan Murail alongside Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto and Mahler’s First Symphony.