Review: BBC NOW -Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique @ St David’s Hall

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BBC NOW -Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique
St David’s Hall
Thursday 4th May 2017

BBC NOWs season is soon to wrap up. Before this, a penultimate concert before the autumn filled with many delights.

Sending us into the 21st Century, Oscar winning Chinese composer Tan Dun and his Internet Symphony No. 1 is confident and colourful composition. Dubbed “Eroica”, this miniature piece (only 5 minutes) was commissioned by both Google and YouTube, to premier as a live stream event with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra back in 2009. It has a merry Chinese flavour that is flung into all of Dun’s work, with the percussionists being most memorable part of the work. A smashing little concert opener.

Stephanie Hough is one of the greatest pianists alive. Any time he is here, it is an event in itself. Tackling here Rachmaniov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, is standard for Hough, who masterfully does not require sheet music and could maybe pay it backwards. His sensational clamourings on the piano are heaven sent and this perfectly fit with the sweeping and soupy moments in the orchestra. This is standard fare for most concert goers musically, but when Hough plays, it should not be missed.

It’s been a long time since I’ve also gawped at the conductor for a long period of time. Thats purely because Xian Zhang is miraculous at what she does. Billed as the first female conductor to hold a title with a BBC orchestra, we hope to see her more frequently in Cardiff. Her acuteness to each score is what makes her crave attention and not just because her petite size requires two podiums so all the players can see her. Even her gratitude for unnecessary applause during each movement of the symphony went acknowledged by her. She is the living, breathing embodiment of the music and through this, we as an audience are graced with her incredible music making.

To end the wonderful night, Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique was fair game. The French composer’s eye bulging account of his love for the Irish actress, Harriet Smithson has not gone unnoticed ever since it premier back in 1830.

Whilst the first three movements are filler (Dreams, Passions, A Ball and Scene in the Country), they do carry the recurring idée fixe theme of the lover. The March to the Scaffold hurtles itself into the score, after the serene Country Scene with off stage Cor anglais, doubling up with oboe on stage. The March is perhaps one of Berlioz most daring feats in music: a cascading force of notes and noise, conjured up by the character’s opium filled visions of his on execution.

After this follows even more incredibleness in the Dream of a Sabbath Night, as the young man is cursed by spectators and monster at his own funeral. A satanic orgy occurs (naturally) and the floral love theme is now shifted into a mocking and bitingly jolly rendition on the E flat clarinet and sister instruments. Deep murmurs and combination of bone chilling bells, brass and strings are the definition of all things ghostly and other gothic, creating a mood a spiritual world away from the balls and countryside evoked in earlier movements. These two movements are simply fantastic.

Rating: 5 stars

Concert available on iTunes for 30 days after airing.

BBC NOW return to St David’s Hall for Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on 8th June, then Swansea on 9th June 2017. 

Weeping Tudor Productions returns with their next project: Jamais vu [Brexit means Brexit]. Come join us at the Wales Millennium Centre on Wednesday 31st May as we musically trigger Article 50. Expect flashes of Gertrude Stein, John Cage, Steve Reich, Luigi Nono, poetry, performance art and the joy that is Theresa May. Don’t be left behind. Tickets available soon.


Review: BBC NOW – St David’s Day Concert @ SDH

Review: BBC NOW -Stravinsky’s Petrushka @ St David’s Hall

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