BBCSO/Oramo – review

Barbican, London
Chief conductor Sakari Oramo launched the Barbican season with Tristan Murail's Refections/Reflets, an effective premiere with a French sensibility

Sakari Oramo took over as the BBC Symphony's chief conductor in July, when he conducted the first night of this year's Proms. But this was his first appearance in his new role in the orchestra's Barbican season, and appropriately he began with a premiere, the first performance of Tristan Murail's Reflections/Reflets, a BBC commission.

The two pieces, lasting about 20 minutes, are apparently the first in a planned cycle for orchestra. But in performance they make a convincing enough pairing. The first movement, Spleen, inspired by one of the most famous poems in Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal collection, is slow, its colours dark, its harmonies knotted; the second, High Voltage, is much faster and attempts to emulate in orchestral terms the glistening virtuosity of pieces like Debussy's Feux d'Artifice, building up to a welter of descending scales.

Murail's music seems to be conceived in more linear terms than it used to be; the spectralist harmonies (Murail was one of the pioneers of spectralism in the 1970s) are less obvious now, confined here to the use of a handful of instruments in the orchestra tuned a quarter-tone flat, while rather Messiaen-like melodic shapes sometimes proliferate, to the extent that you expect an ondes Martenot to make an appearance at any moment. It's effective, and very French in its complexion.

After a grotesque account of Shostakovich's First Piano Concerto in which the soloist, Olli Mustonen, managed to be both slapdash and self-indulgent at the same time, so that having a solo trumpet as suavely musical as Sergei Nakariakov seemed a total waste, there came Mahler's First Symphony. It was one of those typical upfront Oramo performances so familiar from his time as the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's music director. It built steadily in excitement while never going over the top as the last movement can sometimes do. The BBC players already seem to be responding with commitment to someone they are going to see a lot of over the next few years.

• Available on BBC iPlayer until 9 November.

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Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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