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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Extras
indybest
News
i100
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

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

    Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game