Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano Concerto, BBC NOW, St David’s Hall

June 11, 2019 by

The final concert in BBC NOWs main season at St David’s Hall is always a big event. I say this with a heavy heart as I know I am to leave Cardiff and to miss any of their concerts will be hard for me. For a decade and a half, I’ve saturated myself in their musical offerings, bringing friends and family to see them. Through BBC NOW, I’ve made some great discoveries over the years, helping to establish some firm favourites of mine.

So from this, I wanted to savour this concert. Martin James Bartlett playing the 2nd Piano Concerto from Shostakovich looked incredibly enticing. This young musician, has a lot of potential, though I still scoff at the idea a tablet (with the score) for a live concert a little odd. Though most soloist would play from memory, we can let him off for this, such are his emerging talents. He played with a cheeky persona, perfect for the weird piece, weird winks to What shall we do with a sailor, but still crammed with Russian delights. At its premier the work was considered trivial, yet the Andante holds as one of most sublime slow movements of any piano concerto. It’s effect never wains, such its it power, with a glowing warmth that leave you as content as a big mug of green tea. The final movement clamours with absurd, grand excitability that also stirs the senses. Keep an eye out for Martin James Bartlett. He is the real deal.

Ending with Mahler’s 1st Symphony, this compelling almost hour of music had some outstanding moments for the players. I believe Mahler went on to better things, (his 2nd and 3rd symphonies are masterpieces), the great potential of the young composer bursts out of this first symphonic endeavour. Some interesting solos are also here: the fleeting double bass melody heard later on in the piece, multiple horn and woodwind solos and more. That uneasy blend of the joyous and the dark sided that permeates his later canon, starts to unfurl here. Even the street music had pangs of dread in them, though the Alpine air is felt throughout. Conductor Mark Wigglesowth conjured a potent performance from the players. There is a lot of force here, as any conductor will tell you.

Those unfamiliar with the Austrian composer should consider his 1st, before entering into much more dense material. You only need to look at the amusing viral video of a cat reacting to his 9th symphony to know what I mean.

I will cherish this concert for some time. I’m so sad to not be around for the next season.

BBC NOW perform Stravinsky’s Funeral Song and Brahms Requiem at Hoddinott Hall, WMC on Friday 28th June 2019.


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