BBC National Orchestra of Wales, St David's Hall

First published in Reviews by

Promotion by stealth is usually employed to introduce work by composers notorious for being difficult or incomprehensible and for that reason unpopular.

They’ve been doing it for poor old Anton Webern for more than a century without much success but at least this concert presented Webern both ‘old’ and ‘almost-new’ to demonstrate where musical development was taking him.

Even in the youthful, balmy Im Sommerwind there are signs of fragmentation which foreshadow the Passacaglia, though even that’s tame compared with his later, attenuated music.

Two works by a representative of the Second Viennese School in one programme must be a record in these parts. Both were played with disarming fluency by the orchestra under associate guest conductor Francois-Xavier Roth, who seems to get a lot out of his association with the BBCNOW. Too much perhaps in Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, in which the clarity of that famous opening was not always sustained in passages for strings where the writing becomes over-larded, difficult and bombastic. It’s possible to tame Strauss but here he was given his head and not to pretty effect.

However, late Romantic works often require a large orchestra, ever an exciting prospect where the BBC NOW is concerned Nothing was prettier than soprano Rosemary Joshua’s three Mozart concert arias, though in the last her throat was playing up; so much so, that she declined to appear in the second half for Exsultate, Jubilate. It was our loss. The irony was that she's normally such an effortless Mozartian.

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