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Part II was again non-climactic in intent, as such the opposite of the final work of the evening, Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, a single arc leading to a gigantic climax. Here the underlying concept was a series of nine two minute pieces for orchestral groups dissected and reassembled in new formations, and only retrieving their original forms in the final stages of the twenty minute piece. Rather than an abstract description, this is in fact how I perceived it, fragmentary, contrasted utterances, gestures from varied subgroups within the large assembly of instruments, always engagingly colourful from wind string blends to exotic percussion from four percussionists including watergongs.
The gestures were increasingly discursive, energetic, even passionate, yielding to increasingly forward brass motifs that threatened and in fact did take over the fabric of the texture. Yet within the mosaic a new continuity evolved, pointillistic yet sustained as if original sense was resuming following an a-sense, rather than non-sense, of the fragmentation. Here cohesion and coherence suddenly appeared as if the pieces of a rubic cube were finally fitting into place, then in the very last bars the 'theme' itself unfolded in its totality: time's arrow reorganised (as in Martin Amis's novel) in beautifully inverted musical logic.
After the rarified rippling sonorities of Part I the BBCSO seemed highly sensitive to the tiniest inflections of dynamics and sound in Bartók's Piano Concerto No 3, given a magisterial and moving account by Barry Douglas, in fine and virtuosic form. He etched the themes with crystalline, almost Mozartian clarity, pounded the arpeggio textures of the development with neo-Brahmsian richness and approached the vigorous octave passagework of the outer movements with voracious energy. But Douglas's pianism did more than merely dazzle, and conveyed the emotional tenor of the work, for underlying the second movement is a celebration of love and life, a final gift for the pianist wife of the composer who had only months to live, and who completed all but the scoring of the final seventeen bars of the work.
Copyright © 18 February 2007
Malcolm Miller, London UK