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BBC Symphony Orchestra, Oramo: Thought-provoking Matthews and transcendent Beethoven

Barbican, London

'Crumple a page from a broadsheet very gently, with a pulse of 72': the precision of Colin Matthews’ instructions for his new piece Traces Remain indicates the fine calibration of its effects, but this quality is not immediately apparent: it takes a while for its initial discordancy to resolve into the gripping sequence which is its raison d’etre.

He tells us to look out for echoes of Beethoven, Schoenberg, Sibelius, and Mahler, and that the whole work is underpinned by a Jacobean lute song, but the first movement is dominated by a walking-bass figuration which passes from one instrument to another in a moto perpetuo.

When Mahler comes into the frame in valedictory mode, the string textures acquire a seductive luminosity; the Jacobean melody then appears in the form of a Bach chorale which sweeps everything up into its graceful momentum. 

The numerous solo spots were well taken by members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo’s direction: before this, four horn players had come centre-stage for a rare performance of Schumann’s Konzertstuck in F major for four horns and orchestra; this was revelatory, if not exactly transcendent.

But transcendence did come with a beautifully-conceived account of Beethoven’s Eroica.