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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

    £35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

    Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most