BBC Symphony Orchestra

Barbican Hall, Saturday 7 January 2017

A late romantic programme, starting and ending with Janacek, brought a healthily full audience to the Barbican Hall last night. Edward Gardner proved to be both enthusiastic and precise in his conducting, allowing the lush orchestrations to charm the listeners.

The evening opened with Janacek’s overture Jealousy. Originally planned as an overture to Jenufa but eventually abandoned, it was later revised as a concert piece in its own right. Here we heard it in Charles Mackerras’s reconstruction of the original which, if short, is full of impressive changes of mood and texture.

Smetana’s Ma Vlast is more familiar and we relaxed into a lyrically effuse reading of Vltava and a more strident Sarka. There was little sense of danger here, more a mythical, if not quite mystical piece of story-telling.


Szymanowski’s second violin concert is something of a rarity but Tasmin Little found all the nostalgic warmth inherent in the work as well as making the significant technical problems seem almost too easy. The extensive double stopping in the cadenza was most impressive but equally supported the sense of delight she brought to the whole piece. The final dance movement exploded into life, and if there was a darker heart lurking it was always at the mercy of the joy which flows throughout.

The new work was the UK premiere of Peter Eotvos’ The Gliding of the Eagle in the Skies.  The work is both loud and aggressive for much of its twelve minutes and it is only towards the end that there is any obvious sense of space or silence surrounding the bird in flight. While there is some interesting use of percussion, the structure is difficult to follow on a first hearing and it did not seem to endear itself to the audience.

The final item brought us back to Janacek with Taras Bulba. If the original narrative line is less than attractive to a modern audience, with its death and torture throughout, the score is thankfully more than open to a range of potential story-lines. As such it made sense to simply enjoy Janacek’s glorious orchestration, particularly the final rolling pages, rather than worry too much over what is supposed to be happening. That way we were able to enjoy not only the BBCSO’s fine playing but the panache Edward Gardner brings to every live performance he gives.

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