Review Highlights

BBC National Orchestra of Wales

The Guardian
by Rian Evans
11 February 2006

This programme of rarely heard 20th-century works certainly had plenty of bite, with two American symphonies framing Kurt Weill's Second Symphony. Scored classically and strictly non-programmatic, Weill's work is nevertheless characterised by a narrative flow and, while the episodes indulging his melodic instinct sometimes veered uncomfortably on the sentimental, conductor Mark Stringer negotiated the transitions of mood with conviction, while the BBC National Orchestra of Wales displayed a revitalised spirit.

Of course, Gershwin was not the only American in Paris, and the symphonies by Roy Harris and Aaron Copland were a reminder of the extent of Nadia Boulanger's extraordinary influence. Neither could be further from the avant-garde style of later Boulanger pupils, yet their balance of discipline and effect suggested her mark.

In Harris's Third Symphony, Stringer achieved both the rhetorical grandeur and the strong architectural sweep of the single-movement work. Yet it could not fail to strike a chilling note that music that begins as a noble crossing of the prairies, head held high, should end in positively martial mode.

David Goode was the soloist in Copland's Organ Symphony, where the distinctive timbre of reedy stops with orchestra betrayed the French connection. Here, the way in which the composer contrasts the chamber-music intimacy of solo instruments - with the organ in dialogue using more pungent percussive effects and, in turn, organ and orchestra in brilliant full flood - proved exhilarating.

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