Three 'B's and a lady conductor

There is of course no reason why women should not be orchestral conductors, but in fact they are extremely rare: indeed I think yesterday evening at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was the first time I have seen one. Marin Alsop has a distinguished career, having conducted many famous orchestras and is currently Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. This year she will become the first woman to head a major American orchestra, as Musical Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Yesterday she conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra in two infrequently heard works and one very well-known one - all, coincidentally, by composers beginning with 'B'.

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) is best known today for his violin concerto, though he also wrote a splendid opera of Antony and Cleopatra, He wrote two symphonies, but withdrew and destroyed the second. The first (1936, revised 1943) manages to be lyrical, astringent and forceful: it is in one continuous movement (though this in several distinct sections) and lasts only about twenty minutes. The orchestra negotiated its complexities and wide range of sonorities in a riveting performance.

Max Bruch (1838-1928) would have been irritated to know that today of all his works only his First Violin Concerto is well-known - indeed it is one of the most popular pieces in the repertory, to the exclusion of all his other works. Yesterday Tasmin Little played the little-heard Second Violin Concerto. The work has many attractive moments, but in the first and second movements there is insufficient overall structure, and this and the sombre mood combine to make the music enjoyable but unmemorable. The work comes to life in the last movement, which is lively and spectacular, and well constructed. Tasmin Little handled the technical difficulties with aplomb and no sign of the successive approximations which many violinists resort to when faced with a work of this difficulty.

The last work of the evening was Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: one of the best-known works in the whole of music. The first movement was a little hurried, and the triplets which begin the famous 'V' phrase (which happens to have the rhythm of the Morse Code for 'V', leading to the work being associated with 'V for Victory' in the Second World War) were not always clearly articulated: but the remaining movements were more convincing. The energetic and hopeful finale demonstrated that the work's wartime popularity was not only explained by the 'V' association.

It would be nice to hear more in the way of unusual works: in the field of romantic violin concertos alone there are excellent concertos by Dyson, Somervell, Coleridge-Taylor, Harty, and Karlowicz which have been recorded but are practically never heard in the concert hall.

[A footnote, added 15th February: the Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto is being performed at a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra at Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, London, on February 24th, to mark the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery Act (Coleridge-Taylor was of mixed Sierra Loenean and English parentage).]

Posted: Sat - February 10, 2007 at 08:02 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM