BBCSSO/Volkov – review

Royal Festival Hall, London
Works by Toru Takemitsu and Ligeti once again showed how 20th-century classical music didn't turn its back on the beautiful

One of the many beneficial effects of the Rest Is Noise festival, now entering its final weeks, is its undermining of the stubborn myth that musical modernism was entirely occupied making itchy-scratchy, plinkety-plonk music designed to batter its listeners into a state of submission. While 20th-century music, like all other arts, increasingly challenged and overturned traditional conceptions of the beautiful, that didn't mean that composers turned their back on it altogether.

That certainly wasn't the case for Toru Takemitsu, three of whose shimmering musical canvases formed the initial focus of this BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra concert. Green (November Steps III), Marginalia, and I Hear the Water Dreaming all take their cue from Debussy in assigning a structural role to orchestral colour. The musical ideas are introduced as "splashes" which ripple outwards into the texture, generating a momentum that ebbs and flows with an extraordinarily precise logic before tailing off in a wisp of vapour. Green was a particular joy to hear again, despite some sketchy playing from the strings, while in the performance of I Hear the Water Dreaming, the orchestra appearing almost to dance round the solo flute, superbly played by Adam Walker. A fourth work, the more boisterous San Francisco Polyphony, also came across well. The effectiveness of Takemitsu's techniques of blurring and smudging the music's surface were a real testament to Ilan Volkov's rigorous preparation and clarity in conducting.

The second half was given to Ligeti's violin concerto, with Ilya Gringolts making light work of the solo part and the (reduced) orchestra keeping step admirably with the strange stylistic and twists and turns, which at times resemble a kind of smoothed-over collage of gently colliding soundworlds. Considering Ligeti's increasing centrality to the story of postwar music, his music has been relatively under-represented during the year-long festival, so thank goodness it's done this well when it's done at all.

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Guy Dammann

The GuardianTramp

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