BBC SO / Knussen, Barbican, London

The BBC Symphony Orchestra was on exceptional form in its Barbican concert last Thursday under Oliver Knussen. Knussen is a large man, but his gestures are small. Monteux seems to be his model, a conductor famous for his tiny beat but also for demonstrating that on the podium less is often more. It was Monteux who between 1911 and 1914 conducted the premieres of some of the most significant scores of the 20th century, not least Stravinsky's Petrushka.

So it was a nice bit of planning to programme a Monteux highlight conducted in a similar fashion. Petrushka opened Knussen's concert, played in the less familiar 1946 revision. Knussen's Petrushka was as though newly minted, the raw and the childish elements of the score heard so immaculately, the dynamics so carefully weighed, the colours so wonderfully varied, the rough and tumble of the fairground preserved. Knussen's take on the score seemed positively filmic: we had no need to see the puppets or the crowds. And perhaps because Knussen himself has written so touchingly for children, he never wanders too far from the story telling.

Mark-Anthony Turnage's viola concerto On Opened Ground was written for Yuri Bashmet and the Cleveland Orchestra and first performed in 2002 - it was Turnage's first commission from an American orchestra. Albeit discretely, Turnage implied at his pre-concert talk that all had not gone well.

Although we were hearing its second performance, one suspects that this was its real premiere. The concerto is in two movements lasting about 25 minutes. The first movement, called "Cadenza and Scherzino", opens with an elaborate cadenza for soloist that moves from gruff motivic phrases - elegantly picked up by smooth string harmonics in the orchestra - to splashy double-stopped chords. During this movement, the soloist rarely ceases playing, but Turnage has provided an exquisitely heard orchestration that never drowns. Even in the "Big and Loud" section, when the brass keens, the soloist emerges unscathed with the instruction: "Warm and intense - lots of bow". As in so much of Turnage's work, dark melancholy is never far from the surface and the colours of the viola are well suited to this mood.

The second movement, "Interrupted Song and Chaconne", is slow, marked "hypnotic" and as the high, intense sound of the soloist enters, the atmosphere is decidedly mournful. Three times, Turnage interrupts with contrasting material, leading to a chaconne that underpins the final section of the work. In Lawrence Power, Turnage has the dream soloist, a performer of immense ability, assured and possessing the emotional imagination to clarify complexity.

As a final bonne bouche, Knussen revelled in Varèse's rarely performed Arcana, a work for massive orchestra. Knussen used a small beat; the volume was astounding; he gave us a small smile.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests