Daphnis et Chloé at St David’s Hall

Taking a short break from today’s duties – which are substantial – I’ve just got time to mention that last night I went once again to a concert at St David’s Hall in Cardiff. This time it was the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under the direction of conductor laureate Tadaaki Otaka, who were joined for the second half of the performance by the BBC National Chorus of Wales. The concert was broadcast live last night on BBC Radio 3, although I didn’t listen to it on the radio myself because I was there in person. In fact I only just got there in time because last night they switched on the Christmas lights in Cardiff city centre and I had to make my way through the crowds to get to St David’s Hall.

The programme began with an appetizer in the form Mozart’s, brief but dramatic overture to the opera Idomeneo which Mozart wrote when he was just 25. It’s interesting how much more attention one tends to pay to an overture when it’s detached from the main event it is supposed to precede. In fact you sometimes even find people talking during the overture at the Opera, which as far as I’m concerned is a crime of the most serious order. Anyway, the Idomeneo overture  is in a compact sonata form, which is something I’d never appreciated before despite having seen the Opera a number of times.

After that there was a memorable performance of  Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto with soloist Thomas Zehetmair. I’d never heard this piece before, and was captivated from the very opening in which the soloist enters alone without any orchestral preface or accompaniment. The piece consists of two sprightly and intense allegro movements either side of a more lyrical adagio. It’s a very virtuosic solo piece but also full of interesting melodies and innovative orchestration. I was sitting in the stalls directly in front of the cellos and basses who had to work phenomenally hard, sometimes doubling the melodic line of the much nimbler solo violin. Great stuff.

The interval was followed by a complete performance of the music to the ballet Daphnis et Chloé by Maurice Ravel. As is the case with Stravinsky’s Firebird (which I heard in St David’s Hall a few weeks ago) music from this ballet is often played in the form of a suite or, in the case of this ballet, two suites, but I have to say the whole is much greater than the sum of the suites. It’s a glorious (and very sensual) work, brilliantly orchestrated, full of vibrant colours and lush textures, and even more wonderful when accompanied by the wordless singing of the massed ranks of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The score lasts a full hour, but that time seemed to flash by in this performance which was extremely well received by a very appreciative audience.

Anyway, for the next month you can listen to the whole concert on the BBC iPlayer so feel free to add your comments below if you get the chance to hear it.

The only downside of the evening was that on the way out I bumped into disgraced former Conservative MP and current UKIP AM, Neil Hamilton, along with equally ghastly wife. So traumatised was I by that experience that I was forced to visit the Urban Tap House for a beer before walking home.

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3 Responses to “Daphnis et Chloé at St David’s Hall”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    I listened to the concert on the radio. It was good to hear Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto, and also the entire music from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé rather than just the suites. The playing was very good indeed.

    The excellent Tadaaki Otaka was principal conductor of the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra, then of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, during parts of my first and second periods living in Cardiff, so I enjoyed hearing him conduct many times.

    I recall hearing Thomas Zehetmair in St David’s Hall about 20 years ago, in Beethoven’s wonderful Violin Concerto. I believe that was the time I heard an astonishing cadenza that involved the timpani as well as the violin soloist. I assumed it was written by an early twentieth century composer, but many years learned that it was written by Beethoven himself for the version of the Violin Concerto for piano and orchestra. Amazing.

    • telescoper Says:

      Tadaaki Otaka has a very engaging presence on the podium. He was smiling all the time, unlike some who seem to glower at the musicians. He seems a very likeable fellow.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Yes, he seems popular with orchestral players and, judging by his response to applause, seems diffident.

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