Three distinctive musical personalities, immediately evident in the Suite from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, a “ballet with song” reimagining music wrongly attributed to Pergolesi (with references to other Italians), a shoplifting of Baroque styles. Crisply rendered exchanges between solo and tutti forces breathed life into the opening ‘Sinfonia’, while Edward Kay’s oboe brought affection to the ‘Serenata’, and throughout Kirill Karabits coaxed primary colours and rhythmic precision in a performance combining expression and exhilaration.
Stravinsky’s capacity for reinventing himself was not a primary concern for William Walton, whose works after World War Two provoked assertions that he was a spent force. Nothing could be further from the truth as this Cello Concerto (1956), written for Piatigorsky, demonstrates. When played with such conviction and passion as it was here by Johannes Moser there can be no doubt of the work’s integrity and emotional power. Consummate musicianship and flawless intonation produced an undemonstrative yet soulful account. There was no escaping the strenuous demands of the second-movement Allegro appassionato, its muscularity matched by a certain brusqueness, but always alert to Walton’s bluesy gestures, and the theme-and-variations Finale found Moser at his most characterful, the music’s intensity marked with humour and no small degree of communing, crowned by a glorious sunset ... and into an eloquent reading of the ‘Sarabande’ from Bach’s G-major Suite (BWV1007).
There can be few composers who have produced a First Symphony quite so assured as that by Shostakovich, in which so many stylistic fingerprints are already in place. Karabits underlined its mercurial elements, slipping easily between insouciance and waspish, sly humour and brash fairground jollity. He kept the players on a tight lead for the cat and mouse antics of the Scherzo, but this was not without excitement or sinister import. An expansive Lento combined brooding and consolation, and framed a standout moment for Chris Avison whose muted trumpet added an eerie chill. The Finale was compelling for its apocalyptic timpani and bleakly beautiful cello solo (Geoff Prentice and Jesper Svedberg respectively) and its closing wintry triumph, ambivalent and, unmistakably, Shostakovich.
- The performance at The Anvil Basingstoke, from December 1, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Monday December 10 at 7.30 p.m. (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)