A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

BBC Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits - Barbican - 24/02/12

I made a late decision to go to the Barbican on Friday to see the BBC Symphony Orchestra play pieces by Sibelius, Prokofiev and Stravinsky, conducted by Kirill Karabits. It was my first classical concert in almost 6 months (I wrote about the last occasion here). I was sitting in the circle, I think the first time I’ve seen a classical concert from that position (most of the time I’m up in the balcony). I had been intended on seeing Tindersticks at the Soho Theatre but unfortunately it had to be postponed due to Stuart Staples suffering from laryngitis (get well soon Stuart).

I attended the pre-concert talk in the Barbican Hall, which provided an interesting overview of the three pieces being played tonight - Sibelius’ 4th Symphony, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Stravinsky’s score to the ballet Petrushka (the 1947 version). The uniting theme of the night was that each piece was composed or premiered in 1911 - during his talk broadcaster Mark Lowther encouraged us to imagine being a music journalist in 1911 (yes please!), and specifically the range of musical events taking place across Europe at the time. There was a lot going on - on top of the three pieces performed tonight there were opera premieres of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnole as well as the first performance of Elgar’s Symphony No. 2 (not to mention the death of Gustav Mahler later in the year). It’s hard to think that this level of activity will ever be replicated in modern times. I wonder how events taking place in classical music during 2012 will be viewed in 2112. I hope they are still remembered and thatthere are people who talk about them.

It was the first time I was hearing Sibelius’ Symphony No. 4 and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 being played live (or, in the case of the Prokofiev piece, the first time I was hearing it). Much has been written about the darkness of Sibelius’ 4th Symphony, in particular in relation to the composer’s personal situation and tonight was suitably introspective and foreboding, consumed by a tangible, overbearing sadness. Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto in comparison sounded untroubled, convivial and (towards the end especially) quite dynamic. Khatia Buniatishvili was the pianist and gave a superb performance. She returned to the stage for an encore of the third movement of Prokofiev’s 7th Piano Sonata, an astonishingly virtuosic performance, almost superhuman in its near-mechanical execution.

Stravinsky’s Petrushka was as dazzling as ever with its stitching together of Russian folk melodies, all layered and overlapping. As I watched the performance I realised one aspect I particularly like about Stravinsky (and Petrushka in particular) which is how he doesn’t use up his melodic quota early - dispersing it unevenly over the piece, almost teasing the audience by revealing fragments of melody. I always find the ending slightly awkward, I guess due to the association with the ballet. I’m not very good at comparing versions but tonight the BBCSO sounded extraordinarily tight tonight, giving a punchy, slightly pacier version of the piece.

No comments: