MUSIC / Calculation and courage: Robert Maycock on a Panufnik memorial concert at the South Bank and the Osaka PO at the Barbican
Wednesday 21 October 1992
He always had a following among the larger musical public, who care nothing for stylistic correctness. On one level that is surprising, since his scores are as full of schemes and calculations as the serialists': the chart for Arbor Cosmica, six movements of which were superbly played on Sunday by the London Musici, suggests the opposite of anything spontaneous. And Panufnik's music does not naturally sing or dance. The melody sounds as though forced out by an effort of will, the rhythm is driven and obsessive.
There, surely, is the source of its hold. It is not just the composer's life that exemplified courage in the face of adversity; the very stuff of the music is a metaphor for the same human qualities. Even in the Violin Concerto (Krzysztof Smietana playing the solo with finesse) the strength lies less in the lyrical lines than in the stark figures that launch the work and in the finale's determined creation of energy; while the Concertino for percussion and timpanidisplays a fiercely exuberant spirit - a gesture of real generosity, relished here by Evelyn Glennie and Graham Cole.
Roxanna Panufnik's Virtue, commissioned for the occasion and sung by Heather Shipp, was a short, touching, slightly best-behaviour George Herbert setting. Mark Stephenson conducted a full-toned and vigorous Mozart Symphony No 29.
More Mozart without period pretensions featured on Monday at the Barbican when the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra supported Kyoko Takezawa in the G major Violin Concerto, K216: at first with a Viennese charm, the solo showed hints of a fiery temperament which emerged fully in flamboyant cadenzas and most engagingly in the finale's episodes of 18th-century pop. The concert began with Takashi Yoshimatsu's Threnody for Toki, a 10-minute poem for strings with piano, showing a light touch with strong feeling. There's a good ear here for subtle sonority and visual evocation (the toki is a virtually extinct bird), and the playing had concentration and delicacy.
Rachmaninov's Symphony No 2 had a performance of astonishingly sustained intensity, with fluent, powerful violins and bright brass maintaining a pace that would have seemed hectic if it had not been handled so subtly. The precision of ensemble meant that Kazuyoshi Akiyama could conduct with the kind of minute flexibility that you expect from Rachmaninov on the piano. The impetuous, all-consuming finale was thrilling, and throughout the symphony the peaks of ardour were timed to perfection.
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