BPO – Wagner’s Dream – Lotte Betts-Dean (mezzo soprano), Geoffrey Paterson (conductor)
This concert was a bit of a risk, with two avant-garde 20th century composers and an hour of Wagner. It also broke with BPO tradition again because it wasn’t on a Sunday afternoon. Those senior members of the Philharmonic Society who stayed away on this mild Saturday evening missed some very special treats.
Music Director, Joanna MacGregor, came on stage to introduce ‘Atmosphères’, a quiet, sinister work by György Ligeti. When it premièred in 1961 it surprised audiences with its discords but since then TV and cinema have captivated us with similar effects. Today these gentle sounds, played with such care and sensitivity, were intriguing and beautiful. The double-basses in particular made music I had never heard before. There were strange orchestral rustlings, groans and sighs and after eight minutes, when it faded to silence, couldn’t we still hear the faint rumble of the air-conditioning, or perhaps the audience breathing? The conductor’s shoulders finally relaxed and we knew the work was over. It had done a splendid job in getting us to listen so carefully.
Luciano Berio too in his day was a controversial composer. Regular concert goers were shy of his innovations and electronic music. However, his eleven Folk Songs for mezzosoprano are very entertaining. The two violas that accompany the first song sounded as if they were bickering fiercely while Lotte Betts-Dean declaimed ‘Black is the colour’ in rich, wistful tones. All the songs are set so delicately that they showed off her voice beautifully, sometimes sweetly pastoral, sometimes edgy and rustic. It’s a pity that the Dome insists on dimming the house lights so low that it was hard to read the excellent translations in the programme. They would have allowed even more understanding and enjoyment. The concluding ‘Azerbaijan Love Song’ has such a seductive tune and was sung with so much joy that the cheeky spoken coda brought the house down.
I was surprised that quite a few musical friends did not stay for the second half. Their loss!
‘Wagner The Ring: An Orchestral Adventure (arr. Henk de Vlieger)’ is a grand concert event – a medley of the best bits of what otherwise takes days to consume. Helpful surtitles displayed intermittently to outline the story, from the Rhinemaidens’ scintillating opening sequence to the lush themes of Brünnhilde’s immolation. It’s music to swoon into, to drown in blissful reverie, but it’s heavy work for the orchestra. This was not Wagner-lite or easy-listening Wagner. It was full-bodied, a marathon of virtuoso performance from every player. Especial mention must be made of John James, the Principal Horn, who had a particularly heroic solo. It took a great deal of effort and planning to stage such a vast orchestra in the Dome, and the audience were very appreciative.
Dome Concert Hall,
27 January 2024