In parallel with the centenary celebrations of Benjamin Britten’s birth this year, the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s current season includes a number of works by Britten’s slightly older contemporary, Michael Tippett. The centrepiece of this concert was Tippett’s Piano Concerto, which was completed in 1955, shortly after the appearance of the composer’s lyrical and moving Fantasia concertante on a Theme of Corelli .
The Piano Concerto, with its idiosyncratic style and dense textures, was not well received at the time of its premiere, and it requires a committed performance to make its effect. This it received courtesy of Steven Osborne, who has recorded Tippett’s piano music to much acclaim, and guest conductor Alexander Vedernikov. Osborne’s performance was both dazzlingly accomplished in the score’s more demanding passages as well as sensitive to its gentler rhapsodising, while Vedernikov provided an expressive and well balanced account of the work’s orchestral discourse.
Preceding the concerto was a performance of John Adams’ The Chairman Dances, an orchestral work based on themes from Act III of his opera Nixon in China. Vedernikov’s interpretation communicated the music’s prodigious rhythmic invention and boundless energy as well its mystery and darkness, aided by an excellent contribution from the orchestra’s percussion section.
Russian conductors are almost always worth hearing in the music of Shostakovich and Vedernikov did not disappoint in this account of the composer’s Eighth Symphony. Underpinned by a sense of tension from the start, the performance was notable for its expressiveness and emotional reach, with climaxes of crushing power in the first and third movements. Vedernikov’s performance was especially impressive in the fourth movement Largo, full of atmosphere and pregnant with menace. Ensemble in the symphony wasn’t ideally clean, but the BBC SO know how to project an authentic Shostakovich sound and the contribution of the woodwind section was outstanding.
The programme booklet, provided without charge, deserves commendation for the quality of the information on the works and composers featured in the concert.
Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk