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Review: Classical: BBCSO/Gabel Barbican, London 24/40

February 25, 2014

George Hall



Bruno Mantovani, who turns 40 this year, is the director of the Paris Conservatoire, a position that has been held by numerous notable French musicians, if not necessarily many of the country's greatest composers. A recent addition to his already sizable output, his Concerto for Two Pianos received its UK premiere in this BBC Symphony Orchestra programme under Fabien Gabel, with its original soloists Francois-Frederic Guy and Varduhi Yeritsyan.

It's a substantial piece in one movement, often densely scored for large orchestra and using a dynamic range that holds regularly to the noisier end of the spectrum. Mantovani has described the appeal of using two pianos as consisting in the possibility of confronting an instrument he already sees as orchestral in scope, and which he here deploys in duplicate, with a full symphonic mass, thus offering "an infinity of sonic schemes". Yet curiously the two pianos rarely seem independent of one another in terms of their material: trills, repeated notes and jabbing gestures proliferate in both. Despite a committed performance from soloists, conductor and orchestra, the result felt overly percussive in character and amorphous in shape, the quality of its ideas scarcely matching the ambition of its structure.

Earlier, Gabel had led a shimmering account of Ernest Chausson's rarely performed symphonic poem Soir de Fete, which attempts to depict the distant sounds of a crowd against the calmness and serenity of the night. Its perspectives were beautifully realised in a performance that suggested its neglect is unjustified. Even Debussy's masterly Nocturnes, which followed after the interval, and could boast the seductive involvement of the female voices of the BBC Singers in Sirenes, failed to dislodge the positive impression it made, while Beethoven's Eighth Symphony ended the programme in an interpretation that was boisterous but never heavy-handed.

George Hall



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Source: Guardian (UK)


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