Royal Welsh College Symphony Orchestra & Chorus – Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms
St David’s Hall
Sunday 19th November 2017
Russia. Russia. Russia. It seems most, if not all of Cardiff’s mayor creative institutions have honoured their revolution just over 100 years ago. What else could be wrung out of the motherlands greatest artists?
Here with the orchestra from the RWC, was a fine choice of Russian music not afraid to be a blockbuster programme. In Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms is a spiky and also serene evocation of Biblical verse. Sung in Hebrew, the chorus did the work proud with bold declarations in colour and phrasing. The orchestra having typical, Stravinsky like movements: joyfully discordant woodwind, penetrating brass and the occasional smattering strikes from piano. The piece leaves you hungry for the composer’s other two symphonies.
In a bold choice, Nuno Lucas thrust himself into the 2nd Piano Concerto of Prokofiev. Never an easy concerto to play, this is a whirlwind piece, with many surprising elements along the way. The piano writing is so angular, stabbing us at times with its rampant discord, it can leave you in a state. Though I could not see the keys (I was sat at the other side of the hall), Lucas is a revelation in his own right, beautifully marrying the mood of mania and melody just right. The final moments of frantic brass, crazed percussion and bolstering piano end the work with a weird sense of triumph.
Whilst WNO gave us Mussorgsky’s Khovanchina this autumn, it looks like the Royal Welsh could not leave Godunov alone ( an awful joke I know, can I be forgiven?). The Coronation scene from Boris Godunov is one of the greatest moments in all of opera and we were treated to this gem to wrap up the concert.
It’s an extraordinary moment, demonstrating Mussorgsky’s outstanding use of orchestration and melodies. The bells, percussion, harps and plucked strings, counter act the drones of bellowing brass and double basses. The chorus are thrilled to see their new Tsar and they declare this very loudly before and after, he has a few concerns to sing about.
Also returning from Khovanchina was Robert Hayward, who sung briefly as Godunov. His deeply field baritone here is filled with worry, as he frets over if he is good enough to become Tsar. None of this seems to matter (he did replace Ivor the Terrible, after all) and all the musicians play again with the bells piercing though the entire score.
A glorious musical moment.
Photo credit: Facebook