Review: Musical scoring against oppression

Martinu: Out of Exile Barbican Hall, London

The temporal dustsheet that for so long kept Mahler under wraps has folded back further to reveal a Czech master whose directness rivals Copland, whose tonal palette recalls mature Janacek and whose emotional clout has a humbling impact that Mahler himself might have envied. And while "Martinu: Out of Exile" will surely be crucial to our understanding of the century's music, the sheer consistency of Martinu's style - its teeming textures, bright colours, energetic rhythms and meaningful repetitions - makes for a modest roster of spices that flavour a huge menu. Martinu was prolific, and one needs to cherry-pick with care.

Sharing the programmes between the BBC Symphony and Philharmonic was sensible, though both orchestras must take equal credit for some first- rate music-making. Friday's BBC SO concert under Jiri Belohlavek was initially threatened by backstage flooding and limited rehearsal time, but you'd never have guessed it from the playing. It opened with Memorial to Lidice, a compact orchestral essay in short paragraphs that commemorates the Nazi destruction of an entire Czech village - brave music, strong and tear- stained, but never over-stated.

The 1939 Field Mass that followed was originally intended for open-air performance by the Free Czechoslovak Army, though Martinu's striking instrumentation - a homely harmonium joined piano, percussion, winds, the BBC Chorus and baritone solo Roman Janal - breathed comfortably within a controlled acoustic. Again, personal contemplation and public defiance co-existed, with countless stylistic cross-references, not least the distant spectre of Chopin's "Funeral March" Sonata that echoed before the central "Kyrie eleison!". Raphael Wallfisch revelled in the challenging but by no means unpalatable complexities of the revised First Cello Concerto, playing without a score and summoning an impressive arsenal of expressive devices for the finale's lyrical central section. The first movement struck me as over-long, a criticism that might also apply to the Brahmsian Third Piano Concerto that Boris Berezovsky played the following night with the Philharmonic under Vassily Sinaisky. Restless key-shifting, elegant neo-Baroque figurations, barn-storming cadenzas, all were present and correct, though even Berezovsky's Richter-like pianism (absolute command of breathtaking dynamic extremes) couldn't mask a certain degree of note-spinning busyness.

The symphonies came off wonderfully well, the Sixth (on Friday) full of dense, swarming textures and blinding beams of light, the Fifth - a more thoughtful piece - with a gently pulsing second movement that constantly switches from strings to winds and back again. Belohlavek's Sixth was forceful and well drilled, while Sinaisky's Fifth (Saturday's principal treat) homed in on the music's oscillating mood-swings, its ardent cello lines and jaunty rhythms. The translucent Fourth brought Sunday's concert - again with Belohlavek and the BBC Symphony - to a head spinning climax; the Scherzo was a sorcerer's apprentice run riot and the finale climaxed in a mood of unbridled exuberance. Earlier on, mezzo-soprano Marta Benackova had offered seven Debussyan Nipponari based on translated Japanese lyrics.

Jazz was another influence; even the Frescoes of Piero della Francesca - a late work and one of Martinu's best - managed just a hint of a shimmy for the last fresco, and Sinaisky's Saturday performance never allowed the tension to flag. Likewise in Half Time, a soccer spectacular with Petrushka as centre-forward, he kept things on the move without compromising detail. But the masterpiece that secures Martinu's place alongside Bartok and Stravinsky - albeit with a rather smaller catalogue of great works - is the Double Concerto (1938), with its furious crossfire between two string orchestras. Belohlavek's Sunday-night performance graduated from confusion to genuine distinction, reminding us that defiance against oppressors can, on occasion, inspire great art.

Saturday's concert can be heard on Radio 3 this Thursday at 7.30pm.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before