His traversal of the solo part was magnificently eagle-like, powerful and steady yet ready to swoop on the incidental details. The American pianist approached the monumental side of the work with seeming effortlessness, but his playing was also full of refinement.BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo, Barbican, review: The concert of the year13 Dec 2014
Concert of the year? It’s impossible to think of a more interesting musical event over the last 12 months than the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s final Barbican programme for 2014. No other British orchestra has recently offered anything as stimulating as this ambitious concert, which in many places showed the BBCSO to be playing at an exhilarating new level with its chief conductor, Sakari Oramo. But what made this a collectors’ item was a rare airing of Ferruccio Busoni’s massive Piano Concerto, probably not heard live in London since the 1988 Proms: though this work survives in the jungles of the record catalogue, for concert audiences it is an almost mythical beast.
Written between 1902 and 1904, Busoni’s wildly entertaining piece runs for over 70 minutes and is, as Alfred Brendel has written, “monstrously overwritten”. Yet part of the excitement lies in finding a soloist capable of scaling its broodingly epic heights, and Garrick Ohlsson, who did so here, is one of a select few pianists in the world today to have it in his repertoire. His traversal of the solo part was magnificently eagle-like, powerful and steady yet ready to swoop on the incidental details. The American pianist approached the monumental side of the work with seeming effortlessness, but his playing was also full of refinement.
Both sides of the Italo-German composer’s heritage are represented in this five-movement work. The odd numbered movements are lofty and serious, with the finale even embracing a choral invocation to eternity, using male voices and words by the Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger. The contrasting, lighter movements seem to veer close to a send-up of virtuosic piano concerto tradition, especially in the riotous Tarantella, which pushes Rossini over an anarchic precipice. Pianist, conductor and orchestra all relished the work’s extraordinary sonorities.
Having the men of the BBC Symphony Chorus already on duty, it made creative sense to open the concert with the full choir in Rachmaninov’s 1902 cantata, Spring. The baritone Igor Golovatenko joined in with declamatory warmth, telling this affirmative tale of how the arrival of spring washes away destructive jealousy.
Cleverly continuing the theme of 1902 and also Oramo’s ongoing cycle of the Nielsen symphonies, the Dane’s Second Symphony (“Four Temperaments”) was given an outstanding performance, full of bracing attack. It pulled together another fascinating programmatic thread – in that Nielsen also made his own Oehlenschläger setting, incidental music to the poet’s Aladdin – but in almost any other concert, Oramo’s Nielsen would have been the headline event.
By John Allison
Read Full Review