This BBC NOW concert had the misfortune of losing both its conductor and soloist. Though we lament the loss of Xian Zhang as our extravagant, highly marketed maestro and Lukáš Vondráček on the keys, we welcome two familiar replacements: veteran of BBC NOW Jac van Steen and Wales’ own Llyr Williams.
Past this, you could utilise a great deal of energy from the players at the very start of the night with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture. Filled with fierce strikes in the score, a hallmark by the composer, they remain never-ending in its dramatic execution. These held up as a captivating few minutes and a premium choice of a concert opener. Steen never falters in tense handling of the moody piece, delivering little kisses to the orchestra at the very end (you’ll find him doing this trademark after every moment and piece he conducts).
I had the misfortune of missing Llŷr Williams recital last week at the Royal Welsh, an event that is mandatory for piano lovers. Taking over for the Bartók here was no small feat, though I do recall him playing the very same piece some years ago with BBC NOW. With the score on display on a piano that was in dire need of a good polishing, he owned this piece in all its bizarre and brilliant buzz.
The folk music of the composer’ native Hungary is present, along with dense experiments in the orchestra. There are some random moments and inspired parts, the slow movement a surprisingly emotive encounter. Though his 2nd concerto is my preference, Llŷr made this a grand musical moment thanks to his intelligent on the piano and crowd pleasing force. Declaring in his rich voice “A Night in Transylvania”, we got a charming encore of Bartók, with no sight of Dracula fangs anywhere.
Things wrapped up swimmingly with Mozart’s 40th Symphony. The famous opening of the Molto allegro melts into the work, as Steen masters a brilliant version of the symphony. Watching him, he keeps the cogs in fine order as the piece tics away. Little is left unappreciated here, some marvellous little flurries for woodwind and French horns are welcome additions to the pot. Murmurs from the audience (after the work) confirmed just how solid this was. Listen on the iPlayer and you’ll see what I mean. Impeccably envisioned.