Due to the snow, I arrived to the Barbican too late to catch Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks. However I made it in time for the premiere of Marc-André Dalbavie’s Oboe Concerto (BBC/Borletti-Buitoni Trust co-commission).

Alexei Ogrintchouk credit: Marco Borrgeve
Alexei Ogrintchouk credit: Marco Borrgeve

The concerto is a highly varied piece which displayed some interesting composition techniques and contained a difficult part for the oboe. The concerto moved in irregular rhythmic patterns and constantly used very quick ‘flurrying’. Ascents and descents into notes reinforced by chords in the strings gave the piece quite a jazzy feel and also presented oboist Alexi Ogrintchouk with a challenging piece. He, himself writes “all this flurrying is not decoration and display but rather the music’s source, the while of sound out from which motifs and harmonies will be drawn.”

He goes onto describe the piece as a “modern kind of abstractness”. I completely agree: this is justified by Dalbavie’s exotic harmonies, scales, arpeggios, unique textures and chromatic stops, perfectly developping the abstract natures of music by Debussy and Stravinsky.

It's a vibrant piece that you could very easily compare to the work of British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. The French Dalbavie is definitely a composer to look out for, described as the “explorer of spectral music and the discoverer of breathtaking realms of sounds”. If you like modern contemporary music, this French composer is one of its developers.

Prokofiev’s Symphony Number six is the champion of his works, a work of substance, power, emotion and historical value. In the first movement we instantly hear typical Prokofiev, including many of the melodies and harmonies we have heard before in his other works, for example the ‘tick tock’ accompaniment that he has used in his ballet ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Emotionally the piece starts quite calm and then the emotion becomes more apparent as it goes on.

The second and central movement (Largo) has high emotional charge which was easily portrayed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The leader, the principal cellist and clarinet all noticeably performed with such visible emotion. Writer David Gutman described this movement; “It’s anguished, grating chromaticism has intensity rarely found in Prokofiev’s works.” Again in this movement you can recall many themes from some of his other works, in the first theme however the second theme is more free and lyrical which is then abruptly interrupted by a “stormy episode” which also recalls a theme from his ballet Cinderella, still highly emotionally charged, the symphony orchestra battles through the emotion as they reprise the first theme and introduction to leave the audience is complete suspense to hear the sheer brilliance of the last movement; Vivace.

The last movement actually becomes a bit of a shock for the audience because of its ‘breezy innocence’, and is also considered to be the ‘classical’ movement. The music becomes unexpectedly quiet, building with syncopated rhythms and a growing dynamic again there is a complete visual sense of build due to the channelled emotion through the orchestra. The development section falls apart and then brilliantly descends into an explosion of Prokofiev’s usual bold, brassy and distinct chords which, performed fortissimo, gave the audience the climax of the emotion and tragedy Prokofiev inevitably is trying to depict.

The whole symphony was just incredible, and as an audience member I felt so much. It was as if I had just been through a whirlwind of emotion, rather than just sitting through 45 minutes of music. The symphony depicts scenes of suffering and pain which contain enormous historical value and also brings us as an audience the musical adaptation of his horrific period in history. The imagery you get from this piece is incredible, and it was a completely credible and brilliant performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Belohlávek.