Thursday, 18 April 2019

Andrew Davis : Tippett Szymanowski Debussy Barbican

Andrew Davis photo: Chris Christodoulou, bBC
Andrew Davis conducted the BBC SO at the Barbican Hall in London. Top billing to Michael Tippett's The Rose Lake, almost exactly a year after Simon Rattle conducted it with the London Symphony Orchestra, with whom it has been associated since its premiere with Colin Davis in 1995. The Rose Lake is a video in music, inspired by Le lac rose in Sénégal, which Tippett visited in 1990.  As the angle of the sun changed, the colours in the landscape changed, a concept that translates well into a study of orchestral colour.  It was "a continuous five part composition, in essence a set of variations .....a song without words for orchestra", as Tippett wrote at the time.  The sections with programmatic titles mix with sections where only tempo gives clue to meaning, the twelve short segments moving forward in sequence, suggesting the passage of time. Dense but lucid layers of sound as beautifully structured as mosaic.  Andrew Davis, though, brings out its descriptive nature. The panoply of marimbas, vibraphone, and xylophone rustled, suggesting breezes, grasses, rushing water. The massed percsussion even suggested "African" sounds, woodwinds and brass calling like wild creatures against a savannah of strings.  In the organic "earth forms" and especially in the bird and bell sounds, The Rose Lake resembles the music of Olivier Messiaen. Thus the logic of programming it with masters of colour and transparency like Symanowski and Debussy.  A pity that Rattle paired it with Mahler Symphony no 10, with which it has almost nothing in common, since Rattle's feel for Szymanowski and Debussy runs very deep indeed, Rattle being one of Szymanowski's modern pioneers.  Rattle would have made the connections more strongly, but Davis presents it on its own  terms, less Messiaen and divine inspiration than tone poem but perfectly valid. 

Szymanowski's Violin Concerto no 1 dates from around 1916, when he was making a creative breakthrough. To quote Jim Samson, the foremost Szymanowski scholar, writing as long ago as 1981, "the orchestra is conceived rather as a reservoir from which may be drawn an infinite variety of timbral combinations....the string body...sub divided into many parts, further characterized by the most delicate combinations of arco and pizzicato, harmonics, sul tasto, sul ponticello and tremolando effects".As Jim Samson said in his book, The Music of Karol Szymanowski (1981), in the Violin Concert no 1 "the formal scheme is totally unique and represents an ingenious solution to the problem of building extended structures without resorting to sonata form". The almost chaotic proliferation of sub groups and themes within the orchestra, contrasted with extended violin cantilenas, soaring high above the orchestra, are so refined and so rarified that they seem to propel the music into new stratospheres, beyond earthly possibilities. Mandelbrot patterns, in music, mathematically precise, yet full of the vigour of natural, organic growth.  Though a contemporary of Debussy, Stravinsky and Bartók, Szymanowski's music defies category and is astonishingly prophetic. No surprise then that Boulez adored him, and made the keynote recording with Christian Tetzlaff and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.  I enjoyed Lisa Batiashvili's more romantic approach with Andrew Davis and the BBCSO but to really get the full wonder of the piece you need Tetzlaff and Boulez.  

This concert concluded with Alain Altinoglu's suite on Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande.  Please read more about the background HERE. Nothing whatseover wrong with suites. These days there's ill-informed prejudice against them butn they serve a good purpose. In the case of Pelléas et Mélisande a suite arrangement is perfectly valid, since  it focuses on the orchestral aspects of the opera - Debussy's only opera - presenting it almost as tone poem like La Mer. Thus it can be programmed more readily in the concert hall, bringing it to non-opera audiences. The opera itself  is by no means a typical narrative opera, so this orchestral approach has its merits. 

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