House music: Rian Evans' watching and listening highlights

·3-min read

Musical life might never return to what we thought of as normality but, over the last week, there were some hopeful moments. Among them were the four lunchtime recitals from Glasgow’s City Halls broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Proof, were it needed, that hearing music live transmits that extra indefinable life-enhancing something.

Percussionist Colin Currie’s virtuosic programme peaked with Xenakis’s Rebonds B for drums and woodblocks. It felt super-energising. But for me, the emotional high point of these recitals was pianist Steven Osborne’s performance of the Schubert Sonata in B flat, D860. In a work where serenity and sadness, beauty and anguish, are poised in balance throughout, Osborne’s measured approach made the music unfold as naturally as could be, but as powerfully as any symphony. In a preview Osborne said that having in lockdown only been playing what he called his “workhorse” of an instrument at home, he was looking forward to this first outing. From the colours and heavenly sounds he was achieving, he must have been in his element.

Battersea Arts Centre – ravaged by fire in 2015, but risen from the ashes – was the symbolic venue for the first of the Philharmonia Sessions, as that orchestra begins to rebuild its performing life. Filmed and then streamed on YouTube, so not quite live, one could nevertheless sense their relief at playing together again, with Sheku Kanneh-Mason the highly expressive soloist in Saint-Saëns’ first cello concerto. Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis followed. Conductor John Wilson, not immediately recognisable with his lockdown beard, pointed out that this could count as the original socially distanced piece with its different string groups: the camerawork helped define the interplay between them, the solo quartet’s echoes of Renaissance viols adding a ghostly resonance.

In Paris, they’re several steps ahead. Barbara Hannigan’s concert with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France was a live stream of a live event with an audience at La Maison de Radio. Haydn’s Symphony No 49, La Passione, is something of a signature piece for Hannigan, a vehicle to display her own passionate commitment. But the main interest had to be Britten’s Les Illuminations, which she sang and also conducted, an amazing feat by any reckoning. In an interview about her role as Mélisande in the Aix-en-Provence production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, Hannigan said that for her, singing and acting were one and the same. Her conducting seems to come from the same core instinct. Should I mention the long, almost Mélisande, hair? It’s hard not to be aware of it.

Tuning in for the BBC Four repeat of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s brilliant 2017 Prom, the catch-up interview with their music director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla showed her shorn of her usually long tresses, as though ready to sing the boy Yniold in Pelléas (she could and would). For an insight into what makes this graceful young woman one of the most electric conductors of her generation, it’s worth watching the fascinating German documentary made just after her appointment to the CBSO.

Missing the orchestra that’s close to home for me, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, I also searched out two of their members featured in Radio 3’s Postcards from Composers. Segun Akinola’s Muted Fanfare was played by principal trumpet Philippe Schartz and Gavin Higgins’s A Secret Grief, its title a phrase from Camus’ The Plague, by principal horn Tim Thorpe. Each piece conveys a lot in a short time.

My picks for the week ahead

Two unmissable Proms repeats on BBC Radio 3 this weekend. The first is the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra with Mariss Jansons conducting. Now routinely referred to as the late, great, it’s not just a cliche. Hearing again this concert featuring Dvořák’s genial Eighth Symphony and Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben will be special. The second is Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle’s 2013 performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre. With Bryn Terfel as Wotan and Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde, you can’t get classier.

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