In a programme of mostly tasty morsels, Fabien Gabel and the BBCSO found a freshness and rhythmic vitality that made for a most enjoyable evening. Kicking off with a familiar work, Ravel’s ubiquitous Le tombeau de Couperin was given a fresh neo-classical dressing with perky rhythms and characterful woodwind playing. This was a performance that brought out the life enhancing nature of the piece, rather seeking out deeper meanings relating to its wartime genesis, and was all the better for it. 

Noriko Ogawa © Satoru Mitsuta
Noriko Ogawa
© Satoru Mitsuta

Next up was the world première of the piano concerto in all but name, Klavieriana Op.70 by the Swiss-French composer Richard Dubugnon, a 30-minute piece brilliantly brought to life by an inspired Noriko Ogawa. This proved to be a work which was easily graspable on first hearing while having enough grit and energy to avoid being trite. Echoes of Bartók, Prokofiev and Hindemith could be heard in the intense, yet loose limbed, first movement Allegro febbroso, Rachmaninov added his voice in the Sicilienne that followed and even Bernstein in the finale. But make no mistake that Dubugnon has assimilated these influences and his own voice shines through in every bar. I would be delighted to find out that this splendid piece had entered the repertory and was regularly heard internationally. 

The second half of this generous concert consisted of two works that are far too rarely heard in the concert hall, both having their origins in masterpieces for the opera stage. Zoltán Kodály’s wonderful, but difficult to stage folk opera Háry János has found continued life in the Suite, which was played tonight. In this guise it is one of the most beguiling works in the mid-20th century orchestral repertoire. Kodály’s orchestration is so luminous that the brilliantly tuneful material is completely irresistible, particularly here with Gabel’s now familiar insistence on rhythmic clarity, in this case, characterised by an idiomatic rubato. In the captivating third movement, Song, the orchestra is magically joined by the cimbalom, played with aplomb centre stage by Edward Cervenka.

After this near perfect concoction came the symphonic suite arranged by Christopher Palmer from Prokofiev’s operatic masterpiece War and Peace, presenting a selection of episodes which are colourful in themselves, but had the effect of wanting to experience the whole opera in the theatre. Memories of a brilliant production by ENO from the 1980s helped in appreciating the grand context of these bleeding chunks. However, all the music here is vintage Prokofiev and again Gabel found the rhythmic heart in the dances taken from the Ball scene and the orchestral weight in the full-blooded war episodes that conclude this colourful suite. 

****1