BBCNOW/Diakun/Tharaud review – a magical musical mind takes flight | Classical music

S.The starting point for this program by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales was Debussy’s Prelude, often considered to mark the beginning of modern music. Provocatively performed, the piece also served as the prelude to Thierry Pecou’s piano concerto Cala Barri, conceived for Alexandre Tharoud, who gave its UK premiere here. This work pays homage to the tradition of the Balinese gamelan, and Pecou was as drawn to the world of sound as Debussy was when he heard Javanese gamelan players perform at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. No one really understood why it should be worn.

But this was more than just a re-creation of the gamelan orchestra’s aura and inner structure in a symphonic line-up, it was a way of letting Pecou’s musical imagination take flight. Pecou not only exploited the percussive character of the piano in his patterns of ostinato, but also blended his instrumentals into sounds that did not appear to be perceived by the ear at first.

His writing has a natural theatricality, with sometimes massive resonances in full orchestras with gong-biased percussion sections and loud brass, but with more subtle textures such as harp and vibraphone and poetic strings on piano. Equally striking are the occasional moments of silence, peppered with bristling tension, and most magically, the shimmering figures at the top of the keyboard merge with the gigantic at the bottom. I was balancing the pounding like a gong. Tharaud’s combination of formidable technique and pianist finesse helped make this a dynamic affair.

Debussy had an early influence on Bohuslav Martinu, who fled to America in the 1940s and first began writing symphonies when he was blacklisted by the Nazis. With the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a rare outing for his Third Symphony dedicated to Serge Koussevitzky, BBCNOW was once again on good terms. Conductor Marzena Diacun kept Martinu’s inspiring stream of energy firmly in check. Its rhythmic impetus was quite different from Dvořák’s work of just half a century earlier, but it did not eliminate elements of melancholy and nostalgia for his native Bohemia.

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