Thursday 9 August 2012

A Battlefield at the Proms

I always try to listen to as much new music as possible and certainly during this BBC Proms season there is much to be heard.

When I saw that Wednesday’s Prom (8th August 2012) included a piece called Battlefield Concerto I was intrigued. Would this be something like Beethoven’s so called Battle Symphony (Wellington’s Victory) or perhaps a new 1812 overture?

Nothing could be further from the truth as this new work by the Swiss/French composer Richard Dubugnon was a work of some substance and virtuosity.

It was framed by Schubert’s Eighth Symphony and Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Semyon Bychkov. The Schubert had great atmosphere and the pacing allowed the organic growth of the music to slowly build. Whilst being a little tentative in feel this performance certainly made one hear the music afresh with many details becoming evident.

Ein Heldenleben received a performance with Wagnerian sweep with some finely detailed quiet passages. If, just occasionally, orchestral detail was slightly smudged this was nevertheless a fine performance.

Richard Dubugnon, (b. 1968) wrote his Battlefield Concerto for 2 pianos and orchestra Op.54 in 2010 as a result of a joint commission from the Orchestre de Paris, Gewandhaus Leipzig and the Los Angeles Philharmonic and is dedicated to Katia & Marielle Labèque who played the first UK performance at this Prom.

The work is inspired by Paolo Uccello’s (1397-1475) Triptych entitled The Battle of San Romano painted probably about 1438-40.

Intended as a descriptive work, it is by turns virtuosic, lyrical and percussive with a very French feel, and occasionally reminiscent of Ravel. The work has an epic feel and is at times almost like a Concerto for Orchestra. There are even jazzy rhythms and a hint of Bartok. It was difficult with just one hearing to grasp any clearly defined structure to the music. There were different themes which certainly appeared to represent the opposing parties in the battle and one could certainly get the feel of action taking place.

There was simply stunning playing by all concerned and, in particular, the Labèque sisters.

I would certainly like to hear this concerto again, and, indeed, other works by this interesting composer.

See other Prom reviews:

Last Night of the Proms 2012 with Nicola Benedetti, Joseph Calleja and Team GB’s Olympic medallists

A Memorable Concert from Bernard Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic at the BBC Proms

BBC Prom - Max’s Ninth, fine Delius from Tasmin Little and an Impressive Shostakovich Tenth from Vasily Petrenko

Subtle Saint-Saëns from Benjamin Grosvenor at the Proms

Handel’s Water Music and Fireworks Music as they should be played

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