Judith Weir’s Oboe Concerto, BBC NOW, Hoddinott Hall

September 28, 2019 by
BBC NOW returns for an epic series of music making. Their opening concert was presented in Hoddinott Hall, instead of the usual St David’s Hall. Though a smaller venue, the scope of the music was epic, making the experience all the more special.
Starting with Debussy and his Prelude à l’après-midi d’un faune, we got a musical appetizer. The opening solo flute melody is famous and was here performed with conviction by Matthew Featherstone. Inspired by the poetry of Mallarmé, this brief piece is filled with sumptuous orchestration and an all round idyllic mood. I found in the past that my mind wonders when listening to this, yet here I remained focused. It’s the perfect gateway work for anyone who wants to get to know the French composer better.
A UK premier followed with the Oboe Concerto of Scottish composer Judith Weir. Performed by Celia Craig, this was tame listening by anyone’s standard, though her musicianship was evident throughout. The concerto was homely and conversational, the first part feeling like a warm up. In the second section things become more enticing, in one section the string players began to sound like a viol consort along with the lone oboe, evoking music from centuries past. Weir, who used to play oboe herself, has written a piece with little virtuosic flare nor intrigue. I found myself more interested in what other composers of today would create for an oboe concerto, perhaps with more shocking and stimulating material.
Mastro Andrew Gourlay lead things along with an effortless display of confidence. In a second UK premier, he wrapped up this concert is a dazzling fashion. Gourlay is a huge Wagner fan and has found there is no decent version of an orchestra suite from his final complete opera Parsifal. So he’s taking it upon himself to formulate the “bleeding chunks” from the opera into a mighty orchestral piece. Though the suite is not in chronological order, the prelude and orchestral passages remain a magical and dense encounter. The uber Christian themes of the story seep into the music, in arguably the composer’s greatest stand alone opera.  You really have to love the main motifs from Parsifal, as you hear them frequently throughout the suite and the five-hour opera. The brass came into their own here, as one would expect with the playing of Wagner. Their loud delivery made for ritualistic visions. Though we only got electronic bells for the great hall of the Grail scenes and the celestial choir section who sing at the very end is cut. Though the singers add an extra dusting of transcendence, perhaps a version with them left in should be considered. This is after all one of the finest conclusions to any opera ever written.
BBC NOW continue their season with Verdi’s Requiem at St David’s Hall on 3rd October 2019.
Listen to this concert on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after broadcast.

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