Stravinsky‘s Funeral Song has had a number of outings in London and internationally since it was disinterred from the library of the St Petersburg Conservatory in 2015. It supplies the missing link between Stravinsky’s apprentice works and the mastery of the three Diaghilev ballets, 1910-13. Funeral was composed for the memorial concert of Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky’s teacher and father figure. It is a dark, processional piece; as Stravinsky himself said, members of the orchestra “filing past the tomb of the master in succession , each laying down its own melody as a wreath.” It’s surprising how much of it doesn’t seem like Stravinsky although the mysterious, creeping opening clearly anticipates The Firebird. The influence of Wagner is strong. Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra emphasised this in an absorbing reading that made the most of the work’s dense and sometimes voluptuous textures.
The idea of music as ritual also appears again in The Rite of Spring. Oramo refused to treat this totemic masterpiece of modernism as just another glossy showpiece: there was nothing slick or facile. He focused on its enigmatic nature and the opening was full of mystery with the wispy bassoon of Vahan Khourdoian. It was sometimes quick, especially in Part One, but there was nothing episodic. Colouring wasn’t especially primary but there was a brassy vigour to the sound and a concentration on rhythmic complexity, with transitions sudden and brutal, Oramo laying bare the score without minimising its orgiastic element, preserving The Rite’s ability to shock and disturb and distinguished by fine playing.
The concert also served as the first solo appearance for the BBCSO’s Joint Leader Igor Yuzefovich, with Shostakovich as his calling card. Yuzefovich has a secure technique, a subtly variegated tonal palette and a naturalness of utterance that is very attractive with fluid and impeccable phrasing. The bleak ‘Nocturne’ was poised and soulful and Yuzefovich brought variety and colour to the doggedly grotesque ‘Scherzo’. The ‘Passacaglia’ was meditative, the extended cadenza deeply felt and the ‘Burlesque’ had a single-minded propulsive quality that was impressive. Oramo and the BBCSO were on top form throughout. At the end there were hugs all round with Oramo clasping Yuzefovich like a Premiership manager welcoming his new star striker.