Crabb, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Hrůša, Barbican Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
Crabb, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Hrůša, Barbican Hall
Outlandish new work by Rolf Hind sits between big, lush Janáček and Rimsky-Korsakov
There are always risks involved in the uncompromising side of the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s family-friendly concerts. Succulent slices of fox-meat in the form of a suite from Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen gave the kids a nourishing start, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade was always going to seduce them with her effervescent narrative, especially given Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša’s youthful instincts to paint big, bold pictures. But would they sit still through the thrashes and mystic meditations of the latest BBC commission, composer-pianist Rolf Hind’s The Tiniest House of Time?
Fellow audience members might be incredulous if I say that the answer was a resounding yes, especially since there was one not entirely inappropriate vocal contribution from the stalls to reflect back the trombone slides, and a fit of giggles at the (actually very magical) strings’ bow-swishing and percussionists' water-pouring in a hopefully transcendent conclusion; the extra contributions will be spliced out of the Radio 3 broadcast on 2 December. But the majority seemed riveted, and not just by the visual stimuli of James Crabb’s not-so-solo accordion, the Japanese rin or small bowls and the flailing of the whirlytubes (I remember them well as a schoolground craze so many years ago).
Hind's outlandish, sometimes subterranean, integration of qawwali and Roma band-music (the composer pictured right) as well as his response to haunting poems by Rumi and Kabir – whose reflection on seeking God in the moment gives the work its title - is a bit lopsided at first; the multi-metre opening is followed by a couple too many riots in which the accordion’s part can’t be clearly deciphered, not at least from where I was sitting. But once Crabb (pictured below) began his deep-breathing exercises, following the Tibetan meditation practice of inhaling suffering and exhaling happiness, in the second "Tonglen" movement, I was hooked.
A second slow ritual, launched by tuba sounding tritones and fifths, developed as a kind of passacaglia. In building the tension, Hind honourably followed the tradition of other great admirers of that repeated-bass form: Shostakovich, Britten, MacMillan and Ades. "Sky-Circles", the final winging-free, had Crabb describing birdsong against the barely-audible nature noises of the percussionists. It would be welcome as well as kind, given the hitches of the unanticipated audience participation, if the orchestra were to give the piece a second airing as soon as possible.
Hrůša’s penchant for sweeping gestures and saturated sounds which sometimes overwhelmed in the Barbican’s magnifying acoustics wasn’t ideally showcased by František Jílek’s quarter-hour selection from Janáček’s wise operatic fable of life’s recurring cycle. Unlike the more familiar Talich Vixen suite, which focuses on the largely orchestral first act, Jílek's goes for the emotional plums of three scenes, finale included: ecstatic in youthful burgeoning, poignant in the human awareness of disillusionment and passing time. Hrůša favoured expansive emotional swamping over subtler heartache, serving up a small box of very rich chocolates. But, given little over a quarter of an hour as opposed to the bigger symphonic canvas of Henk de Vlieger’s Wagner Ring synthesis convincingly rendered by this orchestra under Mark Wigglesworth the other week, it was always going to be a tall order.
Share this article
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Classical music
A lucid journey through three centuries of great German music
A synaesthesiac's dream programme including a dazzling performance from a pianist with the world at his feet
Sir Andrew Davis finds the soul of Elgar's visionary oratorio
Madcap programme embraces World War One, the Deep South and Soviet soccer
Peerless pianism from a husband and wife partnership
Spiritual highs from the extraordinary Stuart Skelton, Sarah Connolly and Sir Andrew Davis
Perfection then tiredness from a fine orchestra on its third evening in London
You won't ever hear a more imaginative recital than David Kadouch's in this weekend festival
Nineteenth-century chamber music, Polish violin concerti and a young Chinese pianist's debut disc
Only the visionary gleam is lacking in a well-sculpted Elgar First Symphony
Elvis, Reich and John Cale - natural bedfellows?
Soprano Nicole Cabell sounds the depths in a thoughtful programme of grief and memory