Schreker – Vorspiel zu einen DramaBusoni – Berceuse élégiaque, op.42
Ravel – Shéhérazade
Pavane pour une infante défunte
Schoenberg – Chamber Symphony no.1, version for full orchestra, op.9b
Nora Gubisch (soprano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Josep Pons (conductor)
A refreshing programme of early(-ish)-twentieth-century orchestral music from the BBC SO and Catalan conductor, Josep Pons, which, if it did not always possess the last word in refinement, certainly benefited from Pons’s palpable enthusiasm for this repertoire. Indeed, the opening Schreker Vorspiel zu einem Drama – not, as the Barbican website had it, the Overture to Die Gezeichneten, from which this longer concert work derives – can rarely, if ever, have been heard with such liveliness, even bumptiousness. The performance itself made a refreshing change from the over-ripe decadence to which we have become accustomed in such music. Not that there was no hint of such a tendency, but the last thing the music needs is exaggeration in that quarter. Amidst a sea, no an ocean, of coughing and even – I kid you not – widespread eating and drinking, Pons projected a strong sense of line, the BBC SO responding with apparent glee to Schreker’s orchestral phantasmagoria. There was plenty of bite too, rhythmic command being especially impressive. And if there were perhaps times when Pons’s infectious enthusiasm threatened to run away with itself, the performance was one of warmth: just the ticket for a cold December night.
I wish I could feel greater enthusiasm about Schoenberg’s 1935 version for full orchestra of his First Chamber Symphony. Whilst understanding his reasons for providing this alternative, it seems – and continued to seem – inferior in every respect to the original, like a considerably more extreme case of Verklärte Nacht. Timbres and edges are smoothed and blunted; solo moments come as welcome relief, reminding one of just what one is missing. That said, there were in this performance occasions when a stronger still kinship to Mahler and Brahms came through, partly as result of the larger forces. Pons’s tempo shifts were considerable but not unconvincing, save for a sagging of tension during the slow movement. Still, this is Schoenberg, and it is no bad thing to remind ourselves from time to time of a weaker, yet indubitably ‘authentic’, version of what remains a strong candidate for the title of most joyous twentieth-century musical masterpiece.