BBCNOW at St David's Hall

By Evans, Rian | Musical Opinion, March/April 2004 | Go to article overview

BBCNOW at St David's Hall


Evans, Rian, Musical Opinion


The contemporary music series given every January by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales have long established themselves as an important feature of Cardiff's orchestral season. This year the replacement of three or four lunchtime concerts by a single evening event initially gave rise to alarm, but the performance on 22 January will surely stand out as one of the most memorable of 2004 The fact that it was wellattended ought to embolden the programmers, who must believe that there is an audience for more challenging repertoire.

Alarms were deliberately sounded in the concert's opening work, Thomas Ades' These Premises are Alarmed written for the opening of Manchester's Bridgewater Hall. Its allusions to a break-in and setting off of sirens and alarm bells may seem flippant on the surface, but the way in which such an ugly facet of our world is manipulated into the structure of the score is artful and Ades' orchestration had an iridescent quality.

In Les espaces du sommeil Witold Lutoslawski creates a dreamworld suspended between real and surreal. With some very expressive singing in the higher part of his range, baritone soloist Jeremy Huw Williams captured the elusive quality of Robert Desnos's words, though his lowest notes did not always carry as well.

Colin Matthews, by his own admission, takes a swipe at minimalism in his piece Hidden Variables. There are obvious references to the likes of John Adams and Steve Reich but, as the title implies, there is an altogether more complex process at work, one which maximises the potential of material rather than taking it at face value. This was a thoroughly engaging and persuasive score.

The orchestral work ...a la Duduki by the Georgian composer Giya Kancheli might in other circumstances have seemed a stronger work. Its title celebrates the ancient reed-instrument of Georgian tradition and with it the spirit of the country, but its contemplative mood, although sometimes strikingly interrupted by brass instruments - including a solo brass quintet placed high in the organ gallery - seemed indulgent and over-long. …

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