Apart from the usual nightly or more Proms concerts that happen in the Albert Hall, there were two subsidiary series which the BBC presented under the auspices of the Proms at Cadogan Hall in Sloane Square, a chamber music series on Monday afternoons and a Saturday Matinee series. The installment of the latter which happened on the 21st of August was presented by I Fagiolini (an early music vocal ensemble whose director is Robert Hollingworth) and the Britten Sinfonia, conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, with Lawrence Power, violist, and Ian Watson, accordion player, as soloists. The very interesting program paired pieces of early music with modern pieces which were either based on that piece or somehow or other associated with it. After a performance of Flow My Tears by Dowland (which is the version of his Lachrymae tune with words), Power and the Britten Sinfonia played Lacrymae by Britten. Even though the title suggest a connection with the Dowland tune in question, the Britten piece is actually meditative variations on another Dowland song, Can She Excuse (presumably Britten thought Lacrhrymae was a better, more evocative title). After I Fagiolini sang Tristis est anima mea and Moro, lasso, al mio duio by Don Carlo Gesualdo, the Britten Sinfonia played Carlo by Brett Dean. Carlo is a sort of memorial to October 26, 1590, which was the night on which Gesualdo’s unfaithful first wife and her lover were murdered, either, according to legend, by Gesualdo himself, or, at least, certainly at his instigation. It begins with a recording of Moro, lasso, which begins to expand as the orchestra enters, by the addition of bits of other Gesualdo madrigals. Over the course of the intensely dramatic piece, the orchestral music, which is more “modern” and impassioned, completely engulfs the tape of the actual vocal music by Gesualdo.
Betty Olivero began the work which became Neharo’t Neharo’t during the fierce war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon during the summer of 2006. Moved by the television images of victims, corpses, and mourners on both sides, she wrote a piece which was about laments and mourning. Her work uses the work of professional mourners in various Mediterranean countries, both recorded and transcribed for the instruments, along with music derived from Monteverdi’s Madrigals of Love and War and Orfeo’s lament from Orfeo. The earlier part of the piece involves impassioned, florid melismas exchanged between the viola and accordion soloists, accompanied by two string orchestras, building up, both in texture and volume, to the climax of the piece, which is the moment at which the actual recordings of the mourners are introduced. From that point the work unwinds its intensity. Olivero, in her use of the soloist in contrast to the orchestras, represents the relationship between the individual and the group to which he/she belongs. As the music recedes from the climax, occasional soloists from the orchestra detach themselves from the orchestra portraying the more personalized experience of other individuals in the collective. Neharo’t Neharo’t means Rivers Rivers in Hebrew, evoking rivers of blood and tears that are shed by mourning women in disastrous situations; however Olivero also intended to imply hope, since the root of the Hebrew word ‘nahar’(river) resembles the word ‘nehara’, meaning ‘ray of light.’ The rapturous intensity of Neharo’t Neharo’t was matched by that of the performance, particularly from the soloists, Powers and Watson. It was preceded on the concert by Lamento della ninfa and the end of Act Two of Orfeo by Monteverdi.
On August 23, The Swedish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, gave the first UK performance of their compatriot Albert Schnelzer’s A Freak in Burbank, a tribute to the American director Tim Burton. While composing his work, Schnelzer was reading a biography of Burton; he tried to imagine and evoke Burton’s life in “the pastel-colored suburb” of Burbank,California, where Burton grew up, and to suggest the loneliness and sorrow as well as the manic, moderately destructive playfulness which he felt sure must have characterized Burton’s childhood. The other influence on the work was Haydn, and it in fact has the general outline of the first movement of a Haydn Symphony, beginning with slow music–or at least long notes, initiated by somewhat grotesque flurries of notes and sporadic short twitches, predicting the speed of the fast music that follows. The rollicking fast music is eventually interrupted by plaintive slower music, shimmering with hints of the fast tempo, which morphs into the introduction and is elided with the recapitulation. The climax of the work, almost at its very end, momentarily combines both the musics before ending with a bang. The language of the piece is neo-classical and tonal. Dausgaard and the orchestra performed it with energy and humor, and with obvious enjoyment.
On August 25, Leif Ove Andsnes and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra gave the UK Premiere of La mattina (Piano Concerto No. 2) by Bent Sørensen. There were several sources which suggested elements of the work: After a performance by Andsnes of the Mozart 17th Piano Concert in Vienna, he and Sørensen went to a piano-bar where late at night Andsnes played a Busoni transcription of a Bach Chorale Prelude. Sørensen described the music as being ‘something from the abyss that floats upwards and in the end became a halo over our heads,’ and that experience provided the germ of the idea for the scenario as well as the character of the music of the work. The first of the work’s five movements begin with dark hued, quietly slow moving music low in the piano which is in the manner of the Bach-Busoni Chorale Prelude. It is surrounded, shadowed, if you like, by wisps of music in the orchestra, played at the very edge of inaudibility, which gradually becomes more present, leading without a break into the luminous, high scurrying music of the second movement, which enfolds the piano, playing fragments of music, whose occasional breaks leave shimmering motionless remnants of the orchestra’s music. The increasing intensity of the music leads first to a flurry of guitar-like pizzicatos, and soon after to the sound of claves, played by members of the orchestra. The slow third movement expands the register and enriches the range of timbre of the orchestra, even as musical argument intensifies, followed by a claves-accompanied cadenza. The more tentative fourth movement, where the piano plays in alternation with the orchestra, portraying a sort of sunrise, leads to the vigorous Presto finale, whose music and texture are radiantly Mozartian, which eventually spirals up into oblivion. The most immediately striking aspect of this work, as is the case with all of Bent Sørensen’s music that I have heard, is the delicately and carefully, one might well say ‘exquisitely,’ heard sound of it, which is instantly arresting. The subtle and compelling construction and argument of the work becomes clearer over its progress from beginning to end. Andsnes and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, who had played brilliantly the other works on the concert, by Mozart (Haffner Symphony and C minor Piano Concerto) and Greig (Holberg Suite), without a conductor (and, in the Grieg, by memory), were conducted in the Sørensen by Per Kristian Skalstad. That performance was enthralling.